Twelfth Night football continues in the Premier League. After dramatic defeats for Manchester United and Chelsea on the seventh day of Christmas, and Manchester City on the eighth, it was the turn of Arsenal to have the natural order inverted on top of them last night, toppled by the dismissal of Johan Djourou and a fine Fulham comeback.
With 12 minutes remaining at Craven Cottage, Arsenal were battling their way to a 1-0 win and a swift return to fourth place. Djourou was then sent off, to the fury of Wenger, and 10-man Arsenal were overwhelmed.
Five minutes were left when Steve Sidwell headed the equaliser, and in stoppage time Bobby Zamora scored the winning goal.
For Fulham it was very obvious delight: too many times this season they have lost out to late goals, most recently an added-time equaliser at Norwich City on Sunday.
In October Zamora missed a last-minute chance against Everton to win the game 2-1; he missed, and Everton took it 3-1. Last night, though, he found the corner. "We worked hard all season and not got the results at home," he said. "This caps off the hard work."
Zamora was rewarded with a final-whistle embrace from Martin Jol which could have uprooted a tree. "I love my players, especially when they score goals," the Fulham manager explained. He went on to dismiss talk about Zamora's future as speculation.
It was the first time any Jol team had beaten Wenger's Arsenal, in his 11th attempt. The Dutchman described it as a great feeling.
The Arsenal manager was not quite as pleased, fired by a burning sense of grievance against Lee Probert. "The referee influenced the game in completely the wrong way, in my opinion, and we cannot influence that," he said.
Wenger's complaints were with a penalty claim by Gervinho, and both of Djourou's bookings.
He even accused Fulham players of successfully trying to have his right-back sent off. "When [Kerim] Frei came on, the game was all look for the second yellow card for Djourou," Wenger said. "In the end, he got it."
The late collapse could have been avoided, though, as Wenger admitted, had Arsenal scored more than once. Gervinho, back in the team in the place of Andrei Arshavin, was Arsenal's brightest attacker at the start, volleying over at the far post from a corner and nearly winning a penalty after colliding with Philippe Senderos.
Gervinho was predictably involved as Arsenal took the lead after 21 minutes. He passed to Aaron Ramsey on the edge of the Fulham area, and Ramsey's cross deflected off Stephen Kelly. The ball looped up and dropped onto the forehead of Laurent Koscielny, who headed in his first goal of the season. The deflection was unfortunate but the marking was not.
Once ahead, Arsenal had the confidence to pass the ball as they can. One especially impressive spell of pressure forced the Fulham goalkeeper David Stockdale into an improbable triple-save from Ramsey, his Fulham Team-mate Sidwell and then Gervinho, and he had to make two other stops from the ever-threatening Robin van Persie.
After the break, though, Fulham started to assert themselves, winning the ball back more quickly and in better positions than they had in the first half, creating a stronger platform for the technical gifts of Bryan Ruiz and Moussa Dembele than before. Senderos and Clint Dempsey both headed narrowly wide from Danny Murphy and Ruiz crosses respectively.
Wenger, seeking to reimpose control over midfield, brought on Tomas Rosicky and Yossi Benayoun, while Jol made the opposite move, exchanging Murphy's experience for Frei's trickery, a move Wenger said prompted the attempts to have Djourou sent off.
If that was Fulham's plan, it was successful. Djourou pulled down Zamora, earning his second, quite legitimate yellow card. Having lost a man, Arsenal could no longer maintain their faltering grip on the game.
With six minutes left Fulham won a corner, which Wojciech Szczesny could only palm away. Senderos headed the ball back across goal, where Sidwell gratefully nodded the ball into the net.
Then, deep into stoppage time, Sébastien Squillaci could only head a high ball across goal, from where Zamora gleefully volleyed it home.
Substitutes: Fulham Frei 6 (Murphy, 69). Arsenal Rosicky 5 (Walcott, 65), Benayoun (Gervinho, 74), Squillaci (Ramsey, 81).
Booked: Arsenal Djourou.
Sent-off: Arsenal Djourou (78).
Man of the match Stockdale.
Match rating 8/10.
Possession: Fulham 54% Arsenal 46%.
Attempts on target: Fulham 8 Arsenal 10.
Referee L Probert (Wiltshire). Attendance 25,700.Reuse content