✳ Arsenal 2 Fulham 1
London, UK | THE INDEPENDENT | For the second time in a row at the Emirates, there was late heartbreak for Fulham in a frantic contest.
After Aleksandar Mitrović had put his side in front, Martin Ødegaard equaled the scoreline, before Gabriel won it with four minutes remaining.
Marco Silva named one change from the derby-winning team last time out in the league, as Neeskens Kebano returned to fitness in place of Jay Stansfield on the wing.
In a packed-out Emirates Stadium, there was a suitably lively start to proceedings. After Arsenal had a few probes at the Fulham defence, the Whites got a turn to be on the front foot after 9 minutes. A slick pass out wide from Mitrović got things going, and allowed Bobby De Cordova-Reid a slight sight on goal. His effort from inside the box was blocked for a corner, with João Palhinha skewing his shot over following Andreas’ delivery on the set-piece.
The best opportunity of the contest so far went to the hosts in the 14th minute. A precise switch of play by Ødegaard found Gabriel Jesus lurking at the back post. He teed up Granit Xhaka to shoot, but his lofted effort went wide.
Jesus was growing into the game for Mikel Arteta’s side and thus causing concern in the Fulham ranks. His latest exploit was to break through the line and get in on goal, requiring a heroic Tim Ream hook to clear at the last. Gabriel Martinelli’s corner then hit the crossbar directly to cause a minor scare.
On the 33rd minute there was a slightly bigger problem when Saka got one-on-one following a fortuitous bounce, but Bernd Leno showed his quality with a superb stop to smother the danger.
A few minutes later and there was even more quality from a Fulham man at the other end of the pitch. Mitro’s searching diag looked as if it might be heading out, but Kebano produced a touch of class with his left to keep the move alive – much to the awe of the crowd. He then drove at Ben White before pulling it back for Andreas, who could only loop a left-footed ping over the bar.
Just shy of five minutes into the second half came another opportunity for Fulham. Andreas did well to shield the ball and bring it forward towards the buzzing Fulham faithful, and then swung one in towards De Cordova-Reid, whose stooping header at the back post looped over.
A short while later and there was another chance for Silva’s men. Following a swift counterattack started by Antonee Robinson, Kebano was away and blitzed Ødegaard for pace. Unfortunately though, at the vital moment he got his feet muddled up and it was a let-off for Arsenal.
The Gunners punched back firmly and had a couple of effort of their own next, most notably Jesus curling one from inside the box, but Leno had a reply to everything that was put his way.
After 56 minutes all of Fulham’s efforts got their reward, and they went ahead. Gabriel was caught dawdling on the ball close to home and Mitro robbed him, outmuscled him and then slotted home past Aaron Ramsdale for his 100th Fulham goal – cue jubilations amongst the 3000-plus fans in the away end.
Two minutes later Fulham almost retook the lead in this 100 mile-per-hour contest. As we’ve seen so often, Andreas’ corner found the firm head of Mitro, who coiled the neck muscles back and unleashed a powerful nod towards goal, requiring an acrobatic Ramsdale stop.
The introduction of Eddie Nketiah from the Arsenal bench made an already lively affair even more so, and his couple of opportunities were again matched by his former teammate, Leno, in goal.
As the clock ticked down the tension continued to grow as Fulham attempted to hold on to their point. With seven minutes left Martinelli decided to let fly from range after being frustrated down the left, and his shot wasn’t a million miles wide.
Despite a plucky performance from Fulham, there was to be late heartbreak. Following a corner there was a bundle of bodies in the box and the ball fell kindly to Gabriel, to poke into an empty net.
Coming on as a sub moments prior, Nathaniel Chalobah then had a big chance to keep the drama going and level the score after Harrison Reed’s whipped delivery from a dead ball on the right, but in a game where keepers were on top, Ramsdale was there to parry yet again.
In the end Fulham left with nothing to show from a valient display in North London.