By Richard Clarke at Emirates Stadium
Mark Schwarzer saved Mikel Arteta’s last-gasp penalty to deny Arsenal victory in a crazy game at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
The Fulham keeper dived to his left to deny the Spaniard after Sascha Riether had handled a cross from substitute Andrey Arshavin deep into injury-time. In fact it was so deep that the whistle blew before the teams could kick-off again.
It was a disappointing end to a thrilling game. The home side went 2-0 up in the first half-hour through Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski but they were pegged back by half-time goals from Dimitar Berbatov and Alex Kacaniklic.
Fulham’s Bulgarian striker scored from the penalty spot midway through the second half but Giroud’s second header restored parity almost immediately.
Arsenal stormed forward in the final stages and the excellent Giroud twice tested Schwarzer. However Fulham’s clever counters showed why they have been one of the Premier League’s most admired sides this season.
Their fans would argue they deserved the draw this afternoon.
However, given the first 23 minutes and the last 10 seconds, Arsenal fans will know they could have got more.
Fulham arrived here with justifiable confidence. They had been scoring freely in the first ten games of the Premier League season and were nestled just behind Arsenal in the table.
It was Remembrance Weekend and the Arsenal players were in shirts emblazoned with a poignant poppy. They will be auctioned on Arsenal.com next week. In addition, a minute’s silence was respectfully observed just before kick-off this afternoon.
To date, Wenger’s men had been slow starters and, at times, it had caught them out. The first half would go against the norm.
Once again, it was the opponents who started brightly and, on another day, a deflected shot from Bryan Ruiz might have drifted home in the opening seconds, rather than going just wide.
However, on this occasion, Arsenal’s response would be emphatic.
Giroud timed his run and his header perfectly to score from Theo Walcott’s corner in 11th minute. It was the Frenchman’s fifth goal of the season and his team’s first in the opening 30 minutes of a Premier League match.
Midway through the first half, they would double that tally. Arteta was allowed far too much time on the right of the area and his cross was prodded home by Podolski from close range.
For a side that might be lacking a little confidence, the cushion seemed crucial.
However it would not last long.
On the half-hour, Ruiz floated over a corner into the centre of the six-yard area and an unmarked Berbatov slid home a header from close range.
Five minutes from the break, Riether released Berbatov down the right and his cut back was headed towards the far post by Kacaniklic. Mannone tried to claw the ball out but could not prevent it going in.
It was turning out to be a strange game; four goals in 40 minutes but there had not been many chances. Anything decent had been converted.
On the whistle the turnaround was nearly complete. John Arne Riise raced down the left and, although Ashkan Dejagah could not convert at the near post, only Per Mertesacker’s outstretched foot stopped Berbatov finding the net on the far side.
Fulham started the second half as they had finished the first. They pressed back Arsenal in the opening stages but the most eye-catching chance came in the 55th minute when Walcott weaved through and blasted over.
Before the goal-kick could be taken Wenger replaced Coquelin with Ramsey.
By now, Arsenal looked liked they had recovered and Walcott went close with a deflected shot. However, midway through the half, they would concede again.
Arteta lost possession to Ruiz on the right of the area and hauled him down as he looked to recover. Berbatov fooled Mannone from the spot.
Seconds later the keeper’s sharp stop prevented Kacaniklic making it 4-2.
It would be 3-3 seconds later. Giroud slid a shot against the far post and then headed home after Walcott had collected the rebound and sent over a clever cross.
The game was now alight. A rocket shot from Ruiz stung Mannone’s hands but Arsenal responded by pouring forward.
This had been a game without much of a midfield. Now it was end-to-end. The introduction of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain only added to Arsenal’s pace.
The pattern was now set. The home side were pressing but Fulham were incisive on the break.
Only the tenacity of Koscielny stopped Berbatov putting Fulham back in front with 15 minutes left.
In the 80th minute, Giroud burst through and unleashed a thunderous shot that forced the best from Schwarzer.
This was undoubtedly the Frenchman’s finest game in his short Arsenal career. Fulham struggled to handle his aerial ability when playing with his back to goal or the power he possessed when facing it.
Giroud might have won it in the final minute but, for once, his radar was awry when he met Sagna’s deep hanging cross. Arteta also saw an effort blocked in injury time.
One final attack ended with Arshavin’s cross hitting the hand of Riether. Referee Phil Dowd pointed the spot but Arteta could not convert.
- Vermaelen (C)
- Coquelin 56
- Walcott 84
- Podolski 77 Goal!
- Giroud Goal! Goal!
- Arshavin 84
- Ramsey 56 Yellow Card
- Oxlade-Chamberlain 77
- Hangeland (C)
- Sidwell Yellow Card
- Richardson 24
- Baird Yellow Card
- Dejagah 84
- Berbatov Goal! Goal!
- Duff 84
- Kacaniklic 24 Goal!