Eddie Nketiah scored a dramatic late equaliser as Arsenal rescued a 1-1 draw to dent Fulham’s Premier League survival hopes.
Scott Parker’s side came into the game seven points adrift of safety having played a game more than Burnley in 17th, and they thought their task was about to become even harder when Dani Ceballos converted Hector Bellerin’s cross just before half-time.
However, VAR came to their rescue and the goal was ruled out because of an incredibly tight offside decision against Bukayo Saka.
Fulham defended resolutely against the Gunners and were hoping for one chance to fall their way, and it did midway through the second half when Gabriel Magalhaes brought down Mario Lemina inside the penalty area. The incident survived a VAR review for offside and Josh Maja stepped up to emphatically convert the penalty as Parker’s men looked on course for what would be a crucial three points.
However, after repelling nearly everything the Gunners threw at them with a superb defensive performance, Fulham buckled in the final stages of seven minutes of injury-time, Nketiah poking home from close range to rescue a 1-1 draw.
⚽️ Eddie Nketiah’s 2 PL goals this season have both been as a sub:
85 min, 2-1 winner v West Ham (H)
90+7 min, 1-1 equaliser v Fulham (H) pic.twitter.com/EOSaGd1dTp
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) April 18, 2021
The result means Fulham are now six points behind Burnley, who have the chance to stretch that gap when they take on Manchester United on Super Sunday (kick off 4pm – live on Sky Sports).
Meanwhile, despite the point, it was a disappointing afternoon for Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side after they booked their place in the Europa League semi-final in midweek with a thumping win at Slavia Prague. The Gunners stay ninth with their chances of European qualification through the league now looking extremely difficult.
13 – Fulham have now dropped more points from winning positions away from home than any other team in the Premier League this season. Agonising. pic.twitter.com/RaVzk3zbNB
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 18, 2021
How Arsenal eventually broke Fulham’s resistance…
Arsenal started well and could have been ahead inside two minutes when Alexandre Lacazette’s flick released Gabriel Martinelli, but the Brazilian could only lift the bouncing ball over Alphonse Areola and wide of the far post.
The hosts cut the Fulham defence wide open again moments later when Emile Smith Rowe’s cut back picked out Martinelli, but, again, he wasted the chance as his low effort was saved by Areola.
Arteta’s side failed to make their early dominance count and Fulham began to get a grip of proceedings.
Arsenal: Ryan (6), Bellerin (5), Holding (7), Gabriel (5), Saka (7), Xhaka (7), Ceballos (7), Elneny (5), Smith Rowe (6), Lacazette (6), Martinelli (7).
Subs: Partey (6), Pepe (7), Nketiah (7).
Fulham: Areola (8), Aina (7), Andersen (9), Tosin (8), Robinson (7), Lemina (7), Anguissa (7), Decordova-Reid (7), Cavaleiro (6), Lookman (6), Maja (7).
Subs: Reed (6), Loftus-Cheek (n/a), Bryan (n/a).
Man of the match: Joachim Andersen.
They were inches away from taking the lead in the 21st minute when Maja’s deflected shot left Mat Ryan stranded, but the ball trickled inches wide of the upright.
The Gunners were starting to toil against a stubborn Fulham defence, but they thought they had finally broken the deadlock when Ceballos headed home Bellerin’s cross at the far post, but a VAR review saw the goal chalked off for a marginal offside against Saka in the build-up.
The assistant referee’s flag would soon deny Arsenal another goal, this time with a more obvious decision against Smith Rowe, who mistimed his run as he latched onto a Lacazette pass in the build up to Ceballos’ cross being turned into the Fulham net.
At the start of the second half, Arsenal pushed forward again but Lacazette pulled a shot wide before the Gunners would again struggle to create any clear-cut chances.
Their wastefulness in front of goal would come back to haunt them as Fulham were awarded a penalty, with referee Craig Pawson pointing to the spot after guidance from his assistant following Gabriel’s late challenge on Lemina.
Two VAR checks later – one on the challenge and one for offside – and Maja broke the deadlock, sending Ryan the wrong way and thumping the ball into the roof of the net from the penalty spot.
Arteta turned to Nicolas Pepe and Thomas Partey, the former coming close to levelling with his first meaningful touch as his header across goal was cleared off the line by Tosin Adarabioyo.
- Mikel Arteta made five changes to the Arsenal side which cruised past Slavia Prague in the quarter-finals of the Europa League on Thursday. Mat Ryan replaced Bernd Leno to make his second start in the Arsenal goal, while Hector Bellerin and Gabriel Magalhaes returned in front of him in defence. Mohamed Elneny came in for Thomas Partey in midfield, while Gabriel Martinelli was restored in attack after scoring in Sunday’s win at Sheffield United, with Nicolas Pepe dropping to the bench.
- Scott Parker also made five changes following Fulham’s last-gasp defeat to Wolves last time out. Tosin Adarabioyo was drafted back into the Fulham defence, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa came into midfield, and the Cottagers’ attack was boosted by the returns of Ivan Cavaleiro, Ademola Lookman and Josh Maja. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Harrison Reed, and Aleksandar Mitrovic dropped to the bench, while Terence Kongolo and Kenny Tete were absent.
Lacazette was then replaced by Nketiah, the France striker heading straight down the tunnel with his shirt over his head after appearing to pick up an injury, and it would be the substitute who eventually rescued the Gunners.
Arsenal threw everything they could at Fulham, who looked like they were going to get over the line, but the pressure finally told in the closing stages of seven minutes of stoppage time.
Ryan was thrown into the Fulham box for back-to-back late corners and the goalkeeper got an important touch to the second as the ball broke to Ceballos, whose shot was pushed away by Areola but only into the path of the waiting Nketiah, who made no mistake from close range.
📊 Mat Ryan is only the 2nd keeper to have a touch in the opposition box in a PL game this season, after Aaron Ramsdale (x2) pic.twitter.com/5dayYttlrs
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) April 18, 2021
Headache for Arteta as Arsenal dealt Lacazette blow
Sky Sports’ Oliver Yew at the Emirates Stadium:
The sight of Alexandre Lacazette heading straight down the tunnel with his shirt pulled up over his head would have been a difficult one for Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta.
The Frenchman has been a key figure for Arteta in recent weeks, with his goals helping fire the Gunners to a Europa league semi-final against Villarreal later this month, but he now faces a spell on the sidelines after limping out of the 1-1 draw with Fulham with a hamstring injury.
“I cannot tell you if it is going to be a week or five or six weeks,” Arteta said. “He felt his hamstring so we don’t know. We are all disappointed because we know ‘Laca’ was on form. We have to rotate players; we have players who didn’t recover from the game on Thursday. That is the risk. You cannot change those players every game.”
The Gunners are already without captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who contracted malaria on a recent international trip to Gabon, leaving Arteta with a potential headache up front with games against Everton and the first leg against Villarreal on the horizon.
He felt something in his hamstring but we don’t know the extent of it and we are disappointed because we know the moment that Laca was on.
It may lead to a chance for Eddie Nketiah, who came to Arsenal’s rescue against Fulham, sealing a point for his side deep into stoppage time.
The 21-year-old, who has been linked with a move away from Arsenal, has struggled for minutes with the Gunners in recent months, but he was in the right place at the right time to poke home from close range and spare Arteta’s side’s blushes.
Now he could be set for a central role. “We will see, we will assess who is available and how we want to approach the game and we will make decisions based on that,” Arteta said when asked about Nketiah’s chances. “He always offers his best. Today he scored a goal, he had another two important chances and he’s always a threat in front of goal.”
And now with Arsenal’s hopes of European football resting mainly with the Europa League, the Gunners may need Nketiah in the right place and the right times a few more times this season in the potential absence of Lacazette and Aubameyang.
Keane slams ‘dreadful’ Arsenal
Speaking on Super Sunday, Sky Sports’ Roy Keane said:
“Arsenal were dreadful. I can’t believe how bad Arsenal were. But they probably just about deserved it.
“I don’t know if Fulham deserved too much more than that. I thought they were poor. I know they’re fighting for their lives but the lack of quality from both teams was dreadful.
“Arsenal were even worse. God help Arsenal going forward. I thought they were shocking, dreadful, no quality, and they got a bit lucky in the end.
“Arsenal… my goodness.”
What the managers said…
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta: “We started really well, controlling the game and creating chances, scoring a goal that was disallowed, in a very disappointing way, we kept going and didn’t allow any shots on target and suddenly we concede a penalty and the game changes completely.
“We took risks in the right way, we could have scored three or four, we totally deserved to win the match but put ourselves in a difficult position.
“We have to just focus on the boys playing away in Europe and arriving here with the desire to go all the way to the 97th, 98th minute.”
Fulham boss Scott Parker: “I’m disappointed and gutted and the overriding factor is the team have worked tirelessly today, given everything, come to a place like this against a very good side and managed to get our nose in front. Second half we had to weather it a bit and then the last action, I’ve just seen it back. He [Rob Holding] looks offside to me, he’s standing in an offside position. As a consequence of where my ‘keeper is, he’s two yards away from the goal-line and he’s in an offside position – that’s what’s disappointing.
“We defended superbly, we limited them to few chances. The longer the game was going on I felt we had done well but the residing factor is that late decision and the rules on it. I think the linesman sees Holding in an offside position, we then go to someone who is miles away and I’m not just saying that because I’m standing on the end of a draw. If someone’s standing in an offside position then I don’t understand that.”
Man of the match – Joachim Andersen
Andersen was a rock at the heart of the Fulham defence and helped repel anything Arsenal threw at them, right until the final seconds of the game.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Andersen said his side were left disappointed after getting so close to what could have been a crucial three points.
“We’re disappointed. It is a little bit similar to the Liverpool game, concede a silly goal like that at the end, small things that change the game,” he said.
“We showed many times that we can play against the best and it is small things that mean we don’t win the game, it is just hard now.
“Arsenal were good today and it was a difficult game, you have to understand you have to defend sometimes when you come here, we didn’t create enough but if you can win 1-0 away then what more do you want.”
Opta stats – Arsenal’s unbeaten run vs Fulham stays intact
- Arsenal have never lost at home against Fulham in 30 previous competitive meetings (W24 D6), more than they’ve faced any other side at home without defeat in all competitions.
- Fulham remain winless in 23 Premier League London derby matches (D5 L18), although four of their five draws in this run have come this season.
- Only against Liverpool (seven) have Fulham conceded more 90th-minute goals in the Premier League than they have against Arsenal (six).
- Arsenal’s late equaliser means that the Gunners have recorded the exact same points tally after 32 games this season as they had at the same stage last term (46); they last had fewer from their first 32 matches of a league season in 1994-95 (40).
Arsenal are back in action on Friday when they host Everton, live on Sky Sports Premier League; kick off 8pm.
Fulham’s next game is not until Saturday May 1 when they travel to west London rivals Chelsea; kick off 3pm.