Arsenal in chaos again after late penalty miss in Fulham draw
Premier League:Arsenal 3 Fulham 3
Arsenal and Fulham shared the spoils in a pulsating London derby at the Emirates after Mikel Arteta missed an injury-time penalty for the Gunners.
After Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski had fired the home side into an early 2-0 lead Fulham staged an improbable comeback to lead 3-2 with two goals from the superb Dimitar Berbatov and one from Alex Kacaniklic.
However Giroud restored parity with a thumping header, and then Arteta had a golden chance to win it with the final kick of the match but saw his spot-kick brilliantly saved by Mark Schwarzer after a controversial handball decision that enraged the visitors.
It is a point that Fulham will be much happier with, but for Arsene Wenger the worries go on after a week that saw them badly beaten at Old Trafford and blow a 2-0 lead at Schalke culminated with a puzzling performance in a game the Frenchman would have expected to win.
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Nothing, it seems, is that simple at the Emirates these days. As soon as Berbatov pulled a goal back to make it 2-1 Arsenal’s defence looked fragile and, much as in Germany in the week, it was a game in some respects the Gunners were lucky not to lose.
Given that Fulham have never won away at Arsenal in their history, the result is not a bad one for Martin Jol’s side, but he must have sensed history when Berbatov fired his side in front from the penalty spot with little over 20 minutes to go.
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As in their draw at Reading last month, Fulham could not hold on, but their performance will give the Cottagers renewed confidence that the top half of the table is where they belong.
Berbatov was the focal point of their attack and the former Spurs and Manchester United man had an early sight of goal snuffed out by Laurent Koscielny before Bryan Ruiz saw his effort deflected wide.
Arsenal looked a little jittery after a difficult week, but their nerves were soothed after just 11 minutes when they took the lead.
Perhaps it was the new faces in Fulham’s starting XI that confused matters, because they failed to pick up Giroud’s run to meet Theo Walcott’s corner, Aaron Hughes reacting too late to prevent the Frenchman scoring with a firm header which Schwarzer got a hand to but could not keep out.
Early goals have not been forthcoming for the Gunners this season, at least not at the right end, and the stage looked set for a dominant performance in front of a suddenly expectant Emirates.
The visitors were not helped by Kieran Richardson limping off after 20 minutes, and while they were temporarily down to 10 men, Arsenal doubled their lead.
Arteta was the creator, surging into the box ahead of a sleepy Fulham defence and pulling the ball back for Podolski to nip in and toe-poke a finish past Schwarzer.
Having led 2-0 in Germany earlier in the week, Arsenal should have known better than to be complacent, but the lesson had not been learned.
While they survived until the stroke of half-time against Schalke, they didn’t even get to the half-hour mark here as Berbatov was somehow given the space to head home Ruiz’s corner from inside the six-yard box. That changed the mood at the Emirates.
As has so often been the case, conceding a goal seemed to sap the confidence out of Arsenal, players and supporters alike.
There was something inevitable about Fulham’s equaliser. Berbatov was afforded acres out of space out on Arsenal’s vacant left flank and from his precise cross the substitute Kacaniklic headed downwards and goalwards. Vito Mannone looked initially as if he had saved it, but both keeper and ball ended up in the net and it was all square.
Four goals in the space of 29 minutes was more down to lackadaisical defending than penetrative attacking, but it was certainly providing entertainment of sorts.
Fulham could even have led at the break, Ashkan Dejagah getting a toe on a cross from Jon Arne Riise and Per Mertesacker scrambling the ball behind before Berbatov could finish seconds before the half-time whistle sounded.
It was hard to know quite what to think at the break. Arsenal’s defending had been awful again, with Thomas Vermaelen really struggling out of position at left-back. But despite the mortified looks and dark mutterings in the stands, the game was still level and there to be won in the second half.
Wenger, and surely his assistant Steve Bould, must have implored the defence to communicate more effectively, especially with the dreaded zonal marking which once again looked hugely ineffective during the opening 45 minutes.
Both sides looked to have tightened up in the second half, as is so often the way after a freescoring opening half.
Walcott went on one mazy run which ended with a fizzing shot just over the bar, while a similar Ruiz run caused trouble at the other end.
Wenger made a change on 55 minutes, introducing Aaron Ramsey in place of Francis Coquelin, but the Welshman’s first contribution was to be booked by referee Phil Dowd, even if the deserved recipient looked to be Steve Sidwell, who looked a little fortunate to still be on the pitch.
Dowd had another big decision to make 10 minutes later, and it certainly looked a questionable one as Ruiz tumbled under challenge from Arteta, but the official pointed immediately pointed to the spot.
Berbatov, who was a class apart all game, stroked the penalty nonchalantly past Mannone and Fulham were in sight of a historic win.
They didn’t have long to enjoy being ahead, however. Arsenal poured forward in search of redemption, but looked to have been denied when Giroud’s shot rebounded back off a post.
But Walcott retrieved the ball out wide and immediately crossed back into the box to where Giroud headed emphatically past Schwarzer. All square again.
It was hard to tell which side was less capable of holding on to a lead. Arsenal pressed for a winner, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain sent on for a tiring Podolski, while Fulham always looked a threat on the counter-attack.
Andrey Arshavin came on for Walcott and it was the Russian’s cross which hit the arm of Sascha Riether and Dowd pointed to the spot.
Salvation was there for Arsenal but Arteta, not Arsenal’s usual penalty-taker, saw his low shot saved superbly by Schwarzer.
Defeat would have been harsh on Fulham. The growing number of critics will certainly be harsh on Arsenal again tonight.
Arsenal: Mannone, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Arteta, Coquelin (Ramsey, 55), Walcott (Arshavin, 84), Cazorla, Podolski (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 77), Giroud.
Subs not used: Szczesny, Andre Santos, Jenkinson, Chamakh.
Fulham: Schwarzer, Riether, Hangeland, Hughes, Riise, Baird, Dejagah (Duff, 84), Sidwell, Richardson (Kacaniklic, , Ruiz, Berbatov.
Subs not used: Stockdale, Senderos, Petric, Karagounis, Rodallega.
Booked: Sidwell, Baird.
Referee: Phil Dowd