Arsenal 1-1 Fulham

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26: John Arne Riise of Fulham celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Fulham at Emirates Stadium on November 26, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)

I'm not normally one to regurgitate old sayings, yet 'close but no cigar' is about as good-a-summary as could be made from a pool of merely four words to illustrate this meeting. Perhaps the idiom goes a bit further than describing this singular match, though, and the frustrations of this very fact are plain to see.

Yet, a point from the Emirates is never a bad night out, even by the deepest realms of our imaginations. At our best, we pushed Arsenal to their most stretching limits and at our worst we still defended avidly and astutely.

For once over the last three years of occasional mediocrity and sporadic success, a point felt like quite a warming achievement for it was a point plucked from the rewarding nest of hard graft, organisation and a little trace of creativity. 

Still though, could have won.

Whether a sign of intent of whether a sign of depleted resources, Martin Jol opted to start with an inconsistent Bryan Ruiz, the Costa Rican who hadn't started a game since a rather irritating draw with Blackburn Rovers in early September. 

His appearance on the field didn't appear to have sparked any early gathering of pace for Fulham, nonetheless, as Arsenal dominated the early exchanges. To such extent, Andrei Arshavin had seemingly fired the Gunners into a 4 minute lead but his goal was, to much relief for the following 3000 Fulham fans, ruled offside.

As if the prompt shock to the system wasn't enough, Mark Schwarzer was dealt with the next task of keeping the game at deadlock, producing a fine save to deny Aaron Ramsey. We've come to expect it of our Australian stopper, but the 39 year-old put in another showing of the utmost calibre at the Emirates and, to a degree, should be thanked for what was a sound defensive performance.

Arsene Wenger's men still pressed, with Theo Walcott doing most of the damage on Riise's left hand side. The England winger teed up Robin van Persie, who fired over, before entrusting himself with his very own effort that Mark Schwarzer's hands were more than capable of parrying wide.

Bryan Ruiz came to life in the mid stages of the first half, although not quite finding the touch that saw his goal at Everton received with such critical acclaim. He was linking well with Bobby Zamora and Moussa Dembele, the latter of whom latched onto one of his through balls and fired wide. Despite his miss, though, Dembele was yet again flawless with his display of strength and vision as well as an uncanny ability to keep the ball quite literally glued to his feet. The Belgian was quite rightly awarded Fulham's man of the match award.

As the half drew to a close, Jol's side stepped up a gear, but unfortunately fruitlessly so. Dembele tested Szczesny before Hangeland headed wide from a corner. Perhaps a needless time to create genuine pressure but encouraging nevertheless.

Arsenal began the second half much like the first, yet they couldn't muster the graft needed to carry their momentum past the hour mark. Fulham subsequently stepped up and a game of the most expansive qualities ensued. End to end was perhaps most beautifully defined in these intervening 10 minutes of play.

In the hoo-ha, Chris Baird cleared a solo effort from Robin van Persie off the line. The Ducthman was menacing all afternoon but was palpably lacking a cutting edge to his play that, more than likely, fatigue could have triggered. 

The Cottagers, sporting black shorts as opposed to their regular white, responded only the way a team down on fire power could - through an own goal. In fairness, it was a move of superior craft that allowed Thomas Vermaelen to inadvertently place the ball past his own keeper, Zamora and Jon Arne Riise combining like an old married couple to bemuse the Arsenal defence. Vermaelen did the hard work though and finished with aplomb. 

Arsenal responded with a wave of attacks, one of which forced another sensational save from Schwarzer, who beat the ball away from a Johann Djourou header as if he were blocking a punch to the chest. 

It was another defender and another header that undid Jol's tight defence, however, as Vermaelen redeemed his earlier error by pulling Arsenal back into the game. Walcott was the provider and he had done himself no injustice in his attempts to certify a place in Fabio Capello's England squad for the European Championships.

Wenger's side then continued to press but Walcott could weave no further magic. Fulham held on to claim a well fought draw, but it could have been so much better.

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