A question of toes

Only drawing with a club 19th in the league is being used against Arsenal by opponents of the European Super League (which clearly won’t happen).

That aside, and more on that later, conceding a goal having the effect of waking the team up, has happened too many times this season.

But a point from the 1-1 draw does neither team any favours, keeping Fulham as relegation favourites, and Arsenal in non-European mid-table mediocrity. Arsenal were unlucky, falling the wrong side of a couple of VAR toe-judgements involving Saka and Gabriel.

Arsenal haven’t lost to Fulham at home in any competition.

The test was maintaining form after playing in Europe three days earlier. Arsenal had lost six out of eleven post Europa ties this season. Arteta said in the week, managing the Thursday-Sunday schedule was difficult and challenging.

But there was a lack of urgency and slight complacency in Arsenal’s play – until Fulham got lucky with the penalty decision in the second half.

Arteta made five changes – Matt Ryan for first start at the Emirates, Bellerin (captain) and Gabriel in, Elneny with Ceballos in mdifield. An exciting forward trio of Smith Rowe, Saka – behind Lacazette up front. He called it managing resources.

Fulham had five changes with Tosin, Anguissa, Lookman, Cavaliero and Maja in. They had lost four of the last five games.

Before the ESL news broke, the importance of a Europa League position was emphasised this week with the news Arsenal have earned around £14m from their exploits – necessary with a £47.8m loss in the last financial year, and £86m over two seasons. The ESL projected annual revenue of between £200m-£300m blows that out of the water. But most likely it is a fantasy as EU law would try and halt it on anti-competitive grounds, let alone the various blocks from other organisations including the UK government which is looking at visa blocks, loan repayments and increased taxes; the Premier League banning clubs involved; UEFA kicking the clubs out of European competition, including current ones, and FIFA stopping players from taking part in international matches.

Lacazette knocked on a bouncing ball for Martinelli in the first minute to lob Areola but wide. Different game if he had scored. Smith Rowe drove in by the byline, the ball was behind Martinelli and he couldn’t generate any power on the shot.

Bellerin gave a loose pass leading to Lookman driving into the Arsenal area, cleared by Holding. Followed by two more incidents of lost possession from the Spaniard.

It was a signal for more Fulham intent. They had their best chance on 20 when Maja’s shot deflected off holding with Ryan beaten – with the tricking just wide.

Saka was held off in the area by DeCordova-Reid but not enough for a penalty. Elneny’s pass to no-one and another straight into touch added to the frustration.

Martinelli passed to Saka who sent it out to Bellerin who crossed for Ceballos to head home beautifully – but Saka’s toe was offside. Fulham tend to be luckier than not with VAR offside decisions.

Lacazette set Smith Rowe clear in the area. He passed to Martinelli whose shot deflected into the net via Andersen. But it was offside again.

At the restart, Ceballos found Lacazette in space – but he dragged the shot wide. Elneny found Saka on the right and he drifted past Robinson and with a tight angle hit the upright.

Frustration grew.

Lemina drove forward and Gabriel was judged to have nipped his toe in the area. Penalty. Maja drove the ball into the roof of the net.

It cranked up the Arsenal pressure. Lacazette won a free kick in a central position, but Anguissa headed it away. Martinelli crossed and Bellerin headed just wide.

Partey and Pepe came on for Elneny and Bellerin. Lacazette looked like he pulled his hamstring. Nketiah came on.

Smith Rowe found Martinelli who crossed for Pepe to head into the goal, but Areola touched it and Cordova Reid hooked clear.

Saka found Nketiah with a lofted ball, but the England u-23 captain couldn’t control it. He then sent a low through ball to the substitute, but he couldn’t control that either.

No doubt frustrated the England international went on his own cutting inside and shot – just wide of the right-hand post.

Martinelli worked himself a shooting position – but fired straight at Areola. And Reid cleared a shot from Nketiah.

But Arsenal persistence paid off late into extended injury time. Saka’s corner was headed on by goalkeeper Ryan. Ceballos fired it goalward. Areola pushed it out – but only to Nketiah who poked it home.

Mikel Arteta said: “It was late, but we were happy to score. We totally controlled the game and had chances. But when you give a penalty away, it’s hard.”

Arsenal: 33Ryan, 2Bellerín (Substituted for Pépé at 68’minutes),16Holding, 6Gabriel, 34Xhaka, 25Elneny (Substituted for Partey at 68’minutes), 8Ceballos, 7Saka, 32Smith Rowe, 35Martinelli, 9Lacazette (Substituted for Nketiah at 70’minutes)

Fulham: 1Areola (Booked at 89mins), 34Aina, 5Andersen (Booked at 50mins), 16Tosin, 33Robinson, 14De Cordova-Reid (Booked at 61mins), 29Zambo Anguissa, 18Lemina, 19Lookman (Substituted for Reed at 69’minutes), 27Maja (Substituted for Loftus-Cheek at 77’minutes), 17Cavaleiro (Substituted for Bryan at 84’minutes)