LONDON — It’s a scenario that’s becoming all too familiar at Emirates Stadium: Arsenal relentlessly chasing that final surge of excitement as the clock extends into the 100th minute and beyond. Any goal, no matter how it’s scored, becomes a desperate necessity, and time is quickly running out. But isn’t the eventual arrival of that goal all the more euphoric?
However, North London is realizing that nothing quite matches the intensity of the first time, no high that can replicate the moment when Reiss Nelson controlled the ball just inside Bournemouth’s penalty area and, with a powerful swing of his left foot, ignited a frenzy of ecstasy among the 57,000-strong crowd. Yet, after a 2-2 draw with Fulham, Arsenal now grapples with a sinking feeling.
This can’t be a recurring theme. A genuine contender in the Premier League doesn’t habitually spend 89 minutes burdened by their own mistakes, handicapped for a significant portion of the match due to flawed tactics that misplace some of their best players. Arsenal possesses all the necessary elements to establish themselves as Premier League dominators-in-waiting, but their addiction to dramatic late-game scenarios will likely prove detrimental over the next 35 matches.
For the third time in the last nine Premier League fixtures, Arsenal found themselves chasing parity even before the Emirates Stadium had settled down. Just as seen against Southampton and Bournemouth, fundamental errors handed the advantage to opponents that title contenders should reasonably overpower long before the final whistle. Despite being under pressure when Declan Rice sent a high ball his way, with two Fulham players closing in, Bukayo Saka should have made a better decision than knocking the ball aimlessly.
Andreas Pereira seized the opportunity, curling the ball into the space vacated by a retreating Aaron Ramsdale. Here was Arsenal’s shock therapy, repeatedly confronting the struggles of the previous season, the immense emotional weight of the moment they believed the title was within reach when they defeated Bournemouth, and the Friday night they let it slip away. It’s no wonder they appeared so sluggish.
Their situation wasn’t helped by a system that seemed custom-designed to slow them down. While Thomas Partey might be a strong midfielder capable of carrying the ball, and despite his track record of competence as a right back at Atletico Madrid, his role inversion displayed all the clumsiness of an inexperienced driver. The Ghanaian is by no means a poor passer, but he excels more at dribbling through pressure than threading precise passes. Carrying the ball could pose a greater risk, especially for someone expected to regain position after turnovers.
Reinforcing the notion that Arsenal’s strategy was off-kilter, Ben White occasionally reverted to his role as an overlapping right back of considerable quality, delivering an excellent pass to Leandro Trossard in the first half. Unfortunately for the hosts, he was frequently required further back on the pitch, ready to counter Fulham’s attempts to exploit the space Partey had left behind.
Glimpses of the finest version of Arsenal emerged in the first half, particularly when Gabriel Martinelli surged toward the byline. However, Arteta’s assertion that his team was “10 times better, at least” than when they defeated Fulham the previous season was a perplexing way to evaluate their performance. Perhaps they outperformed their fairly average display early in the 2022-23 season, but for nearly an hour, they failed to demonstrate the caliber of play they are capable of.
It wasn’t until Fabio Vieira and Oleksandr Zinchenko were introduced that Arsenal vindicated Arteta’s lofty post-match assessment. He emphatically stated, “The way the team played, the way the team generates [positions and opportunities], in any other sport you win by a 100-point margin.” This sentiment was somewhat valid when his substitutes reverted Arsenal to a system reminiscent of last season’s standout moments. Zinchenko injected his usual agility and astute positioning, prompting Arsenal fans to hope that Partey was taking notes.
The revelation, however, was Vieira—a player whose form had waned in his first season following a £35 million transfer from Porto. Weaving around his close friend Gabriel Martinelli, the Portuguese youngster seemed rejuvenated, enticing Kenny Tete into a clumsy challenge that led to a penalty, which Bukayo Saka converted to level the score. Two minutes later, Vieira delivered a sharp ball to the near post, where the impressive Eddie Nketiah, subbed in for Trossard at halftime, slotted it home. Marco Silva protested that play should have stopped when Calvin Bassey was down, and he was particularly irked by the center back receiving two yellow cards—one for time-wasting and another for a clumsy foul on Nketiah. “That first yellow card is a joke,” lamented the Fulham manager.
With Bassey off the field, Arsenal should have had a smooth finish. But where’s the fun in that? Joao Palhinha secured a deserved goal with a header from Harrison Reed’s corner, setting the stage for another thrilling finale that Arsenal seems irresistibly drawn to. Despite the return of Gabriel Jesus and an astonishing bicycle kick save by Fabio Vieira, the anticipated rush failed to materialize this time.