Early and late unforced errors proved costly for Arsenal, tarnishing an otherwise commendable performance sandwiched between the two goals they conceded
LONDON – The scene has become all too familiar at the Emirates Stadium: Arsenal chasing a last-minute thrill, the clock ticking past the 100th minute. Any goal will do at this point, and the sweetness of that moment when it finally arrives is unparalleled.
However, North London is discovering that nothing quite matches the exhilaration of the first hit. There’s no high like the one when Reiss Nelson found himself inside the Bournemouth penalty area, his left-footed strike sending 57,000 fans into ecstasy. But after a 2-2 draw with Fulham, all Arsenal is left with is a sinking feeling.
This can’t keep happening. A true Premier League contender shouldn’t make a habit of playing 89 minutes burdened by self-inflicted errors and spending the better part of an hour with tactics that don’t utilize their best players effectively. Arsenal possesses the necessary ingredients to establish themselves as Premier League champions in waiting, but their addiction to dramatic late-game heroics will likely hinder them in the next 35 matches.
For the third time in the last nine Premier League games, Arsenal found themselves trailing early, leaving the Emirates Stadium unsettled. Just as they did against Southampton and Bournemouth, they handed the initiative to their opponents through basic mistakes – not something title contenders should do. Despite the pressure applied by two Fulham players when Declan Rice delivered a high ball, Bukayo Saka could have made a better decision than to aimlessly knock it back.
Andreas Pereira capitalized on the opportunity, bending the ball into the space vacated by Aaron Ramsdale, who had backpedaled too far and too quickly. It was Arsenal’s shock therapy, a reminder of last season’s travails and the emotional weight of moments when they believed the title was within their grasp, like the night they squandered it against Fulham. It’s no wonder they appeared sluggish.
The system they employed only exacerbated the problem. While Thomas Partey is a capable ball carrier through midfield and has experience as a right-back at Atletico Madrid, his role inversion seemed as awkward as a novice driver. While Partey isn’t a poor passer by any means, he is more effective at dribbling through pressure than threading precise passes. Carrying the ball forward might be riskier when you’re responsible for defensive positioning after turnovers.
Adding to the confusion, Ben White occasionally reprised his role as an overlapping right-back, showcasing his quality with a superb pass to Leandro Trossard in the first half. Unfortunately, he often found himself retreating further down the pitch, ready to counter Fulham’s attacks that exploited the spaces left by Partey’s forward runs.
The first half did offer glimpses of the best version of Arsenal, especially when Gabriel Martinelli charged towards the byline. However, Arteta’s claim that his team was “at least 10 times better” than their previous victory against Fulham last season was an odd assessment. While they may have improved from an average early-season performance in 2022-23, for nearly an hour, their display was far from their best.
It was only with the introduction of Fabio Vieira and Oleksandr Zinchenko that Arsenal justified Arteta’s praise. “He argued that if this squad had played or created possibilities in any other sport, they would have won by a 100-point margin. Perhaps, when his substitutes reverted Arsenal back to a system reminiscent of last season’s successful moments. Zinchenko brought his customary creativity and intelligent positioning, and Arsenal fans should hope that Partey took notes.
However, the real revelation was Vieira, a player whose form had dipped in his first season following a £35 million move from Porto. Interacting seamlessly with his close friend Gabriel Martinelli, the Portuguese youngster seemed reborn, drawing Kenny Tete into a clumsy tackle that led to Bukayo Saka leveling the scores from the penalty spot. Two minutes later, Vieira delivered a precise ball to the near post, and Eddie Nketiah, who had replaced Trossard at halftime, turned it home. Marco Silva argued vehemently that play should have stopped while Calvin Bassey was down, and he was further incensed when the center-back received two bookings for time-wasting and a clumsy foul on Nketiah. “That first yellow card is a joke,” fumed the Fulham boss.
With Bassey’s departure, it should have been smooth sailing for Arsenal. But where’s the fun in that? Joao Palhinha scored the goal his performance deserved when he met Harrison Reed’s corner, setting the stage for another dramatic finish that Arsenal seems unable to resist. Gabriel Jesus made his return, Fabio Vieira unleashed a spectacular bicycle kick that was saved – there were all the elements for a thrilling climax, but this time, the rush never materialized.