Never change a winning team, they say – but that piece of received footballing wisdom was coined before the invention of the Champions League group stages, and Arsenal were arguably the victims of their own success on Saturday. Their run of 11 wins in 13 matches in all competitions before Saturday evening's game was built on a solid core of key performers, but their recent workload had clearly caught up with a few of them here against a stubborn and skilful Fulham side – who had not had the inconvenience of a midweek Europa League match.
When Arsenal looked to go up a gear in the second half, some players had nothing left in the tank, and it was significant that the late rally in which Thomas Vermaelen cancelled out his earlier own goal and Arsenal nearly snatched a winner, was fuelled mainly by the appearance of Gervinho from the substitutes' bench after a rare 68-minute breather. Arsène Wenger has admitted that he needs to rest Robin Van Persie – kept off the scoresheet in the League for the first time since 2 October – but others may also be close to burnout.
Normally Wenger would use tomorrow evening's match at home to Manchester City in the Carling Cup to give his youthful fringe players a chance, but can he afford to ignore a possible route to an overdue trophy? After naming Van Persie, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott as "on the edge" – and an additional hamstring tweak picked up by Walcott is almost certain to guarantee him some overdue time off – Wenger admitted that he faces a tricky selection problem.
"I will change my philosophy a little bit," he said. "We have red alerts on a few players but I will pick as strong as possible a team as I can. What is important is to keep our run going because every win makes us stronger. We come from a position so deep that every two points dropped is not good mathematically for us. But I must say the spirit in the squad is so good that I'm confident we will improve even more."
Fulham, of course, had had a major say in Arsenal's failure to win, and if many observers had been surprised by their confidence on the ball, the willingness to commit players forward when the time was right and their resilience under pressure, then they had not been paying attention, according to Martin Jol, the manager. His team's notorious tendency to go to pieces away from Craven Cottage, he believes, is being overcome. "I feel people maybe are not looking at us all the time," he said. "We had a 0-0 with West Brom where we created eight chances. Against Wigan we scored two goals in one game. Last week we had a 0-0 [at Sunderland] as well. You can say they are not great results but you can't say they are bad results away from home. We could have scored the winner today."
Scorer: Arsenal Vermaelen 82. Fulham Vermaelen og 65.
Substitutes: Arsenal Gervinho 7 (Ramsey, 68), Diaby 6 (Mertesacker, 69), Chamakh (Arshavin, 75). Fulham Kasami (Ruiz, 75), Johnson (Zamora, 78).
Booked: Arsenal Santos. Fulham Zamora, Etuhu, Senderos.
Man of the match Dembele. Match rating 6/10.
Possession: Arsenal 56% Fulham 44%.
Attempts on target: Arsenal 12 Fulham 6.
Referee M Dean (Wirral). Attendance 60,043.Reuse content