Arsenal’s perfect start to the 2023/24 season came to an end as they were held 2-2 by Fulham at the Emirates Stadium. The Gunners were made to play catch-up for most of the game, after going behind to a bizarre first-minute goal by Andreas Pereira. The scoreline remained 1-0 until the 70th minute, when Arsenal were awarded a penalty, which was duly dispatched by Bukayo Saka. Less than two minutes later, the home side took the lead through a sweeping finish by substitute Eddie Nketiah. The points looked to be in the bag for Arsenal, but Fulham pushed them on the backfoot in the closing moments. The last goal of the game, and Fulham’s equaliser came when Joao Palhinha volleyed home a corner, with three minutes to play.
Mikel Arteta made two changes to the side that won at Crystal Palace last week. Leandro Trossard started for the first time this season, with Eddie Nketiah dropping to the bench. The left-back role was assumed by Jakub Kiwior, who replaced the suspended Takehiro Tomiyasu.
Marco Silva received a huge boost with the return of Palhinha to the starting lineup, following an injury. Calvin Bassie was also given his debut following his summer move from Ajax, replacing the suspended Tim Ream at the heart of the Fulham defence.
Arsenal started with Thomas Partey at right-back, with the Ghanaian initially holding the width but later in the game inverting to midfield alongside Declan Rice. It was down Arsenal’s right-hand side that the game exploded into life in the very first minute. Both Partey and left centre-back Ben White pushed forward, and a loose back pass from Saka left the backline exposed. Aaron Ramsdale was well off his goal line, and Pereira latched onto the ball and placed an unconvincing-look shot into the corner. The Brazilian might have been looking to lob the ball over Ramsdale, but it worked out well for the visitors nevertheless.
Arteta’s men were struggling to find solutions to break down Fulham, with most of their attacking play going wide. On the right, Saka was often left isolated, with no one there to make an overlapping run outside him. The midfield pivot of Palhinha and Sasa Lukic was holding firm for the away side, giving Arsenal little options to play the ball in between the lines to Kai Havertz and Martin Odegaard.
Nketiah was brought on for the second half in place of Trossard, giving The Gunners an out-and-out striker to hit up front.
Four minutes before the hour mark, Arteta made a double substitution which changed the game.
Fabio Vieira and Oleksander Zinchenko were brought on for Havertz and Partey, respectively, and this changed the momentum immediately. Zinchenko was able to drive through the midfield much adeptly than Partey, and Vieira started finding more pockets of space than Havertz had.
It was Vieira’s underlapping run into the left half-space that provided the breakthrough. The Portuguese was played through by Martinelli and upon getting to the byline, was chopped down by a retreating Tete. Saka put away the resulting penalty, and there looked to be only winner at this point.
In less than two minutes, the turnaround was complete. Fulham had reason to feel hard done by, as Bassey lay injured while Arsenal got on with the game. It was once again Vieira who found a pocket of space on the left, and fired in a low cross for Nketiah to finish.
Now chasing the game, Fulham started to commit more men forward. This left spaces at the back, and with Arsenal’s pace, The Cottagers were open to the counter-attack. On 83 minutes, that is exactly what happened. Nketiah was one-on-one with the two central defenders, and took a touch to take him through. With no other option, Bassey took the striker out, with no intention of letting him run through on goal. The Nigerian defender was already on a yellow card, and he was giving his marching orders. It was, well and truly, a debut to forget.
Fulham weren’t giving up though, and four minutes later, Palhinha got on the end of a corner from Harrison Reed to make it 2-2. The visitors could have even stolen all three points in injury time, with substitute Adama Traore using his ferocious pace to run through. His final effort, however, was saved by Ramsdale.
In the end, it was a game in which Arsenal dominated possession, but weren’t able to carve too many clear goalscoring opportunities. Fulham were resolute and difficult to break down, and will be thrilled to come away from North London with a point.
Aaron Ramsdale – 5
Thomas Partey – 5
Ben White – 6
William Saliba – 6
Jakub Kiwior – 5
Martin Odegaard – 6
Declan Rice – 6
Kai Havertz – 4
Bukayo Saka – 6
Leandro Trossard – 5
Gabriel Martinelli – 6
Eddie Nketiah – 7
Oleksandr Zinchenko – 6
Fabio Vieira – 7
Bernd Leno – 7
Tete – 6
Issa Diop – 7
Calvin Bassey – 5
Antonee Robinson – 7
Sasa Lukic – 6
Joao Palhinha – 8*
Andreas Pereira – 7
Harry Wilson – 6
Bobby Decordova-Reid – 6
Raul Jimenez – 6
Tom Cairney – 6
Harrison Reed – 6
Adama Traore – 6
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