Vermaelen gets himself off hook
Arsenal 1 Fulham 1: Defender's header salvages a point after firing into his own net as Fulham match Arsenal up front
Perhaps everyone was too quick to declare Arsenal's season fully back on track. After five successive League wins and victories in 11 of their previous 13 matches in all competitions, Arsène Wenger's men were expected to see off Fulham with some comfort but ended up coming within eight minutes of a first-ever home defeat by their west London neighbours.
A header by Thomas Vermaelen cancelled out his earlier own goal, but with Robin van Persie for once unable to provide inspiration or add to his 13 League goals this season, Arsenal could not land a knockout blow during a frantic final charge.
"We hadn't recovered completely from the Champions League [against Borussia Dortmund] – a bit of mental fatigue, also physical fatigue," Wenger said. "But we want to be in the Champions League so cannot cry. The challenge is to win this type of game even if we are tired.
"The positive is that we showed a desire and a refusal to lose the game. It's disappointing that we dropped two points but we kept our unbeaten run going. You have to accept that football is played by human beings and you can drop points against any team."
Martin Jol, the Fulham manager, failed to win a derby against Arsenal in seven tries when in charge of Tottenham Hotspur, and his team has recorded only two League victories this season but this point for his team of notoriously poor travellers will feel almost as good as three anywhere else, and was due reward for a hard working and occasionally enterprising performance.
"A draw for us is still satisfying," Jol said. "We had 50-50 possession in the first half, but in the last 10 or 15 minutes we couldn't play our football any more. We've had reasonable results away and kept clean sheets in the last two games but they are a very good team at home. You have to cut out the passes to Van Persie."
Fulham gave warning early on that they had not travelled across the capital to be pushovers. Although Mark Schwarzer had to be at his best to claw away an early shot by Aaron Ramsey, Moussa Dembélé, Bryan Ruiz and Bobby Zamora were occupying Arsenal at the other end. Ruiz set up a chance for Clint Dempsey, whose shot was blocked, and then Zamora, receiving from Ruiz, turned Vermaelen and hit an angled shot that was too high, but not by much.
Theo Walcott was Arsenal's main creative force. He set up Ramsey, only for the Welshman to hit the ball over the bar, and then gave Van Persie a chance to head for goal, but the captain elected to nod back for Andrey Arshavin instead. There was little concern among the home fans, even when Dembélé forced Wojciech Szczesny to save at full stretch.
The expectation around most of the stadium was that Arsenal would conjure a breakthrough eventually. Would Walcott do it? Even when Schwarzer spilled his low cross, Arsenal could not profit. Surely Van Persie would come to the rescue again. Just short of the hour he sidestepped Philippe Senderos but saw his low shot for the far corner hit Chris Baird and roll wide.
And instead of being 1-0 up, on 65 minutes Arsenal were suddenly 1-0 down. Danny Murphy picked out John Arne Riise charging into the penalty area and although the Norwegian's attempt to chest the ball down appeared to have given the defenders time to clear, Vermaelen's challenge sent the ball past Szczesny and into the corner of his own net.
"How shit must you be, we're winning away", was the chant from the delirious Fulham fans until Vermaelen arrived late and unmarked at the far post to head in Walcott's cross. With Gervinho on as a substitute and beating defenders at will, Arsenal looked the only possible winners, but Van Persie put a chance into Row Z and Fulham held on.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Szczesny; Djourou, Mertesacker (Diaby, 69), Vermaelen, Santos; Ramsey (Gervinho, 68), Song, Arteta; Walcott, Van Persie, Arshavin (Chamakh, 85).
Fulham (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Baird, Senderos, Hangeland, Riise; Murphy, Etuhu; Ruiz (Kasami, 75), Dembélé, Dempsey; Zamora (Johnson, 78).
Referee Mike Dean.
Man of the match Murphy (Fulham).
Match rating 6/10.
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