What looked like it was going to be something of a snoozer turned into a thrilling Premier League encounter at the Emirates Stadium. For the second time in a week, Arsenal threw away a 2-0 lead, emerging from their match against Fulham with a solitary point and a 3-3 draw, missing a last-minute penalty in the process. Drama? Drama!
It was clear from the opening that Fulham were in the mood to play despite their very poor record away at Arsenal. The Gunners' back line has looked very shaky of late, and they were having trouble keeping up with Dimitar Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz, with the Cottagers looking to stretch the hosts whenever possible.
But Arsenal's attack hasn't misfired quite as spectacularly as their defence, and Olivier Giroud continued his excellent form with an 11th minute goal. Per Mertesacker ran interference on a corner kick, and Aaron Hughes failed to track the big Frenchman properly, leaving him with a free header. All that Mark Schwarzer could manage was to palm the near-post effort into the top corner.
And things went from bad to worse for Fulham in a hurry. First, Kieran Richardson, playing at left wing, went down with an apparent hamstring injury while chasing for a loose ball with Bacary Sagna in close attendance. Alexander Kacaniklic was his replacement. And then the entire team went to sleep and Arsenal grabbed their second. Mikel Arteta was able to ghost into the box when a past wasn't picked up by, well, anyone, and his square pass was turned in by Lukas Podolski at very close range.
How would the visitors respond to going 2-0 down? With a goal, actually. The Cottagers managed to win a corner and then exploited a defensive error when Sagna mis-timed his jump, presenting Berbatov with a gift of a header at the top of the six-yard box. The Bulgarian made no mistake.
And then, ten minutes later, Fulham were level. Berbatov was the catalyst, making a superb, untrackable run down the right and finding himself entirely clear of the Arsenal back line. Rather than attempt to score himself, Berbatov opted to cut the ball back onto the penalty spot, where Kacaniklic lurked. There wasn't a lot of power on the cross or subsequent header, but the placement was perfect and Mannone found himself picking the ball out of the back of the net once more.
At the hour mark, the hosts thought they'd been handed a major advantage only for Phil Dowd to take it away. Steve Sidwell, already on a booking, brought down Santi Cazorla. Dowd immediately reached for his back pocket, then apparently realised he'd already shown the midfielder yellow, decided that he didn't want to send him off, and booked Aaron Ramsey instead for no apparent reason.
The Emirates faithful were unimpressed, and were even more annoyed minutes later when the referee awarded Fulham a penalty. In truth, he had no choice. The normally composed Arteta was robbed by Ruiz at the edge of his own error and was rugby tackled in response, staying on his feet for a couple of seconds before eventually succumbing to the challenge and making his way to the turf.
Up stepped Berbatov. Mannone looked mildly terrified. The striker did not. A slight twitch from the goalkeeper was the cue to shoot, and Berbatov placed a perfect penalty into the bottom corner to give Fulham the lead, leaving a wrong-footed Mannone rooted to his line.
Theo Walcott attempted a reply, but his effort was hit straight at Schwarzer. Giroud was markedly more successful in his attempt, tearing through the visitors' defence before seeing his initial effort crash off the post. Fortunately for the Gunners, the ricochet went straight to Walcott, whose cross was headed in off Schwarzer by Giroud to bring Arsenal back to level terms.
Both sides had chances to win it. Giroud denied -- barely -- his hattrick when his long-range piledriver was tipped just wide by Schwarzer. Brede Hangeland should have done better from a corner kick. But Fulham were more or less happy with a 3-3 draw at the Emirates, and it was Arsenal who did the bulk of the attacking for the rest of the match.
And it should have paid off thanks to a catastrophic error from Bryan Ruiz. Fulham were about to escape, with 40 seconds left in injury time, when the Costa Rican tried an ambitious cross-field ball to... well, Andrei Arshavin. Who plays for Arsenal (although not frequently). Arshavin was only too happy to drive into Schwarzer's box and cross, and when said cross hit Chris Baird's hand, Dowd pointed to the spot.
Up stepped Arteta to win it. It was Arsenal's first penalty of the season, and it was also to be the last kick of the game. He didn't win it, shooting weakly to Schwarzer's left and watching as the goalkeeper batted the ball behind to secure the draw.