Walcott rescues late point after Fulham expose familiar frailties

Fulham 2 Arsenal 2
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The Independent Football

Further evidence, if any were required, that Arsenal need to strengthen their defence in the summer if they are to challenge for Manchester United's Premier League title next season.

Reports from Argentina yesterday afternoon suggested Arsène Wenger is about to make 23-year-old attacking midfielder Ricardo Alvarez his first signing of the close season, but it is at the back where they clearly need to find reinforcements. Arsenal will enter the Champions League at the play-off stage and must get through a two-legged play-off in mid-August. "I don't know how much of a pain it will be just yet," said Wenger.

Fulham strikers Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson, with Danny Murphy probing from midfield, exposed Arsenal's fragile centre of defence as these London rivals fought out an entertaining draw. Theo Walcott's late equaliser earned Arsenal a point that they did not seem like getting after Zoltan Gera had been sent off for Fulham just three minutes after he had come on to the pitch.

The blustery conditions beside the Thames did not help things, and contributed to a scrappy opening 20 minutes, in which Arsenal had marginally the better of things but managed to create only one chance of note, when right-back Bacary Sagna crossed for the other full-back Kieran Gibbs to place a header which Mark Schwarzer in the Fulham goal saved low to his left.

Fulham then took the lead with their first flowing move of the game. Johan Djourou in the centre of the Arsenal defence was guilty of hanging back and playing Bobby Zamora onside. The England striker took Clint Dempsey's pass to the byline before pulling it back to Steve Sidwell who side-footed the ball home from 12 yards.

Fulham's lead lasted just three minutes as Arsenal struck back immediately. Abou Diaby exchanged a one-two with Marouane Chamakh and hit a first-time pass to Robin van Persie. The Dutchman took a touch before firing low past Schwarzer to take his personal tally for the season to 18 Premier League goals, and extend his away scoring run to nine games.

Arsenal were fortunate not to fall behind again when Thomas Vermaelen dashed back to clear Johnson's shot off the line. Fulham, however, grabbed the lead for the second time 11 minutes into the second half, with a goal that highlighted the problems at the back.

Sagna did nothing to prevent Jonathan Greening clipping over a cross with his left foot, Djourou misjudged the flight of the ball and Vermaelen allowed Zamora to nip ahead of him and head into the goal past goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny who was rooted to his line. Wenger made a triple substitution with 25 minutes to go, and Andrei Arshavin flashed a shot just past the post after a neat dribble. With a minute to go, Walcott salvaged a point, with a fine low shot across Schwarzer that the Australian keeper managed to touch on to the post, only to see the ball roll across the line.

Fulham manager Mark Hughes brought on Zoltan Gera, who was given a rousing reception by the Craven Cottage crowd. The Hungarian, who was the club's player of the year 12 months ago, has endured a miserable season spent mostly on the bench, and it ended in shame when he was sent off after just three minutes on the pitch, for a horrible two-footed lunge at Vermaelen. The red card was the right decision, but is unlikely to prevent Fulham playing in next season's Europa League via the Fair Play League.

Alvarez, a 23-year-old Argentine midfielder who plays for Velez Sarsfield – and has scored three goals in 25 games this season in his home country – is on the point of joining Arsenal on a free transfer. Great potential, perhaps, but is he really what they need?

Substitutes: Fulham Davies (Greening, 65), Etuhu (Murphy, 65), Gera (Zamora, 71).

Arsenal Walcott (Ramsey, 64), Eboue (Gibbs, 65), Arshavin (Diaby, 66).

Booked: Fulham Greening. Arsenal Van Persie. Sent-off Gera (75).

Man of the match Zamora.

Match rating 6/10.

Possession Fulham 44% Arsenal 56%.

Attempts on target Fulham 6 Arsenal 6.

Referee M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).

Attendance 25,674