Fulham 2-2 Arsenal: Limp display condemns Gunners to fourth as Wenger’s men miss out on automatic Champions League spot
Arsenal bossed the early proceedings as Fulham showed all the signs of a team who have already achieved what was required of them this season.
Samir Nasri could, and possibly should, have given the away side the lead after eight minutes when he found himself 15 yards out, unmarked, but he sent his tame header looping into the arms of Mark Schwarzer.
Fulham’s first chance to test Wojciech Szczesny in the Arsenal goal came after 15 minutes when Johan Djourou clumsy felled Bobby Zamora 30 yards out for a free kick. The home side played it short and the move immediately broke down.
Minutes later Arsenal again went close, with only a fine save from Schwarzer diving low to his right keeping Kieran Gibbs strong header out.
But, as is so common in football, the team by far on top went behind first. Zamora was set free down the right flank in acres of space and allowed enough time to skip into the penalty area and find an equally free Steve Sidwell to slot home from 12 yards with the Arsenal defenders left to look at each other.
However, in another football cliché, the most common time to concede is just after scoring and that’s what Fulham fell foul of when Marouane Chamakh and Abou Diaby linked up well to thread a ball through to Robin Van Persie who, after a fine first touch, coolly equalised for his side.
With the game trotting along at a pedestrian pace, chances were few and far between for either side leading up to half time but Fulham came close to re-taking the lead before the whistle when Bacary Sagna succeeded with a brilliant challenge as Zamora found himself inside the area and steadying himself to pull the trigger.
Nasri nearly made amends for his poor header in the opening minutes with a superb freekick inside the first five minutes of the re-start, sending a driven and dipping drive from 30 yards towards the top corner with Schwarzer managing the push the ball behind just in the nick of time.
Again though Fulham soaked up any pressure from Arsenal and hit back in style when Jonathan Greening did fantastically well down the left wing to find space for a pin-point cross and Zamora was there to thrust a header into the back of the net to regain the lead to justify his standout performance and also raise questions as to where Fulham would be if he hadn’t missed the majority of the season through injury.
With Arsene Wenger looking to stop a run of poor form for the north London side, he threw on an attack minded triple substation on the hour mark with Theo Walcott, Andrey Arshavin and Emmanuel Eboue all coming into play. But the introduction failed to liven Arsenal up with uncharacteristic misplaced passes halting their possession.
Zoltan Gera came on for Zamora but lasted just 4 minutes on the pitch when he dived in with an extremely reckless lunge on Thomas Vermaelen and deservedly received a straight red card.
Arsenal had a fairly strong shout for a penalty as the game ambled into the final 10 minutes when Walcott went down under pressure from Brede Hangeland but the referee immediately called for a corner instead, which came to nothing.
As the game approached injury time, Walcott popped up just in time to deny Fulham an impressive scalp on the final day when the forward drove at the home defence, cut into the area, and finished in off the post.