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Dani Ceballos denied goal by offside rule/Var/nonsense in dull first half
Josh Maja scores penalty after tight Var offside review and questionable foul
Eddie Nketiah steals a draw with controversial late equaliser
The blows keep coming for Fulham. Scott Parker often compares his team to a willing boxer, saying that they will “put the gloves back on” after an agonising draw, but even he must accept that a Premier League knockout blow will be landing soon.
Last week it was Adama Traore’s stoppage-time winner that denied Fulham a point. This time it was a 97th-minute equaliser from Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah, that denied them two. Brutal moments in a punishing season, leaving Fulham six points from safety having played one more game than Burnley.
“We were so close,” said Parker. “It’s painful. I am gutted. The last two weeks have been a real kick. But, as always, we wake up tomorrow morning, put the gloves back on and we go again. I know where we are falling short, but there is also a group of players that can win games. We will keep going.”
Parker’s belief in his players remains strong, and their belief in him seems to be strong too. It is the final touch of quality that is missing. They had defended so well for so long against Arsenal, building a white wall on the edge of their penalty area, but it crumbled with just seconds remaining.
If, or indeed when, Fulham are relegated, they will look back on these past two weeks as perhaps the most cruel of their season. Josh Maja’s second-half penalty had given them hop, until Nketiah found a way through the bodies and tapped in at the back post.
“I am immensely proud of the team and the journey they have been on,” Parker said. “They have given me everything. People will point fingers and say where we have failed, and rightly so, but there’s one area we have never failed and that’s desire and spirit. That’s the reason we still have a fighting chance. I’m proud, but passion and spirit don’t win games.”
For Arsenal, this performance provided a timely reminder of why they would want to be part of a breakaway European Super League. No other “Big Six” team would benefit quite so obviously from joining a new top-tier competition, primarily because no other “Big Six” team are quite so far away from challenging for any of the top-tier competitions that currently exist.
After such a thrilling victory over Slavia Prague in Europe on Thursday, this felt like yet another loss of momentum for Mikel Arteta’s side. It was far from the performance the Spaniard would have wanted or expected, even if they were the dominant side for most of the match.
The result confirmed what most Arsenal fans had already suspected: their league campaign is over. Everything rests on the Europa League, where they will meet Villarreal, and former head coach Unai Emery, in the semi-final and they will hope to have Alexandre Lacazette available after he limped away with a hamstring problem.
“We totally deserved to win,” said Arteta, who insisted that he did not know anything about the super league plan. On Lacazette, he said they will not know the extent of the problem until later this week.
Long before Arsenal’s desperation set in, they had started brightly.
Gabriel Martinelli twice went close to an early opener before Dani Ceballos found the net with a looping header shortly before the break.
To the naked eye there was no reason to question the goal, but the Var lines were soon being drawn and those lines revealed that Bukayo Saka’s big toe – and nothing more – had strayed into an offside position before Hector Bellerin’s cross.
There was more Var drama to come after half-time, when Gabriel Magalhaes brought down Fulham’s Mario Lemina in the penalty box. Just as Saka’s offside was by the finest of margins, so was this penalty ruling. Gabriel’s foot appeared to have just caught the end of Lemina’s, and that was enough to uphold the decision.
Maja scored, and Fulham then sat in. The onus was on Arsenal to break them down and they looked to have failed until the final minute.
Goalkeeper Mat Ryan got his head to Saka’s corner, flicking it to Ceballos. The Spaniard’s shot was saved by Alphonse Areola before Nketiah, ever the predator, pounced on the rebound.
Keith Hackett's view . . .
1. Ceballos disallowed goal
Bukayo Saka's big toe put him offside marginally in the lead-up to Dani Ceballos' first Premier League goal being disallowed. By the letter of the law Saka was offside, but I have expressed my concerns about the accuracy of the technology that is used to judge offside decisions. I believe the benefit of doubt should go to the scorer on these occasions.
2. De Cordova-Reid offside?
Another tight call and Bobby De Cordova-Reid was given the benefit of the doubt on this occasion and rightly so. But it just showed the inconsistency of how the offside law is applied even with the help of the video assistant referee.
3. Fulham's penalty
Referee Craig Pawson was in a good position to judge if a foul had taken place by Gabriel inside the penalty area and appeared satisfied in open play that no offence had taken place. He changed his mind on the review but frankly Mario Lemina was lucky not to be yellow carded for an act of simulation. Not a penalty kick for me.
4. Arsenal's equaliser
Eddie Nketiah came from an onside position to score from Ceballos' cross. Rob Holding was standing in an offside position in the build-up but he was not active and in my view was not interfering with the Fulham goalkeeper.
Arsenal snatch a draw at the death and may have just relegated Fulham with it. Arsenal were awful today and that result will feel like an enormous defeat for Scott Parker.
So Chambers is standing offside as the ball comes in and the argument is that he's interfering with play, which is sort of true. It's also not because Var has decided the goal stands.
Var is back
Here we go again
Arsenal 1 Fulham 1
Even as a neutral that is gutting. Poor Fulham. A corner is headed on by the goalkeeper (!!!), Ceballos boots a shot at goal, Areola saves and Nketiah is loose at the back post to tap in to an empty net.
90 mins+6 - Arsenal 0 Fulham 1
Great save by Areola! Fulham absorbing a lot of pressure here as Arsenal look for an equaliser. Everyone behind the ball, everyone within about 10 metres of each other. Ryan has started playing at the halfway line.
90 mins+3 - Arsenal 0 Fulham 1
Martinelli runs into space, cuts back onto his right foot and within that time, Fulham get 10 men behind the ball. Too many touches, too slow.
90 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 1
Saka tries one from distance but misses the top corner. Arsenal still playing slow passes around the Fulham half until Saka or Martinelli collect and make something happen with their runing. Martinelli zips round the outside of defenders in the box but shoots from a narrow angle and gives the goalie an easy save.
88 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 1
I'm just asking the question. We can never know the answer.
In fairness, Arsenal were very good midweek in the Europa League so we should allow a certain level drop a few days after.
87 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 1
I'm just putting this out there... but where do you reckon Arsenal would have finished in the league if Sean Dyche had been appointed their manager last season?
84 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 1
Areola picks up ' an injury ' which gives the game a time out and me an opportunity to tell you that Arsenal have managed one shot on target.
81 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 1
Arsenal don't really look any closer to scoring. Nketiah nearly gets onto a pass played over the top but can't control the ball or his shot. They're pushing for the equaliser though. Parker on his feet urging his players to hold their nerve.
78 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 1
Ruben Loftus-Cheek, once considered the future of Chelsea and a dead cert in the England team, comes on as a sub for Fulham. Such a shame his career has never really got going, he's a great player on his day.
75 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 1
Fulham are finding ways to attack Arsenal on the counter now that Arteta's team don't have as much control of possession.
72 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 1
WHAT A SAVE! Pepe is on and heads down at the back post for a must-score tap-in but Areola manages to get part of his body in the way to stop the ball crossing the line. That is an incredible save... and Martinelli then tries to score a bicycle from the rebound. You'll be shocked to read this but he does not score.
71 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 1
Nketiah replaces Lacazette. What a shame to get injured there, just after the Frenchman had started playing well.
69 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 1
Bellerin puts a header wide from about 12 yards. Aaaaand Lacazette's game is done. He pulls up immediately after feeling his hamstring go.
68 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 1
I wonder how much longer Arteta's immunity to criticism from fans or football writers will last. I'm not saying for a second that he should be going anywhere but the amount of slagging off OGS got at Man Utd compared to Arteta being granted total license to lose, play badly, make mistakes etc is odd.
65 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 1
Lacazette wins a free-kick on the edge of the area. A chance to shoot! This is exactly where the striker will have practised hitting free-kicks every day in training... and of course, he hits the wall.
62 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 1
So here we have Arsenal struggling to threaten Fulham, losing 1-0 to them. Well done, lads. You've done well this season.
Oh wow great hit. Smashed into the back of the net by Maja.
Arsenal 0 Fulham 1
Ryan shows too much of the goal and Maja just puts hit foot through it.
Ridiculous. Another stupid Var decision prevents an offside decision cancelling the penalty and I don't know what planet the referees are on to deem that a foul but Fulham have a big chance now!
OOOOOHHHHH IS THAT PENALTY?! Yes! Gabriel leaves a leg out and takes down Lemina, who goes over way too easily in the box. It's a clear dive. Touches the toe but there should be no human on earth who doesn't realise that that is not a penalty.
56 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
Xhaka hobbles off the pitch determined to play on. He might be OK after running that off.
53 mins -Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
Xhaka has slid in with a strong leg and caught a player quite badly. Xhaka is writhing around the ground as a result...
Cordova-Reid slips and collides into him, with the physio spending some time with the Arsenal midfielder/left-back. It's a total accident from Cordova-Reid and might mean we see another makeshift left-back. Cedric Soares getting warmed up now.
50 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
Anderson is booked for catching Xhaka slightly late while flying into a 50/50. Both of them were going in hard so I'm entirely sure that's fair... but when you consider Var genuinely had a look at it we should be thankful nothing else happened.
This game really needs a crowd. Feels like a friendly.
47 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
Lacazette and Arsenal are awake! A quick attack at the start of the half, Lacazette receives in the false nine position and shoots wide from 20 yards. Decent effort except for it being wide.
KICK OFF 2
I am keen to see if Parker adjusts anything for this half.
Roy Keane with an accurate description
"It's been dreadful. No quality, decision making, players kicking the ball out of play, pace of pass, people passing to the wrong side. Dreadful."
Arsenal score another goal but Smith Rowe is clearly offside this time. I think we can all agree that 'they' (the referees) need to sort these rules out.
45 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
For all Arteta's tactical wizardry, they are being easily held to a 0-0 draw by Fulham, having taken three shots (officially) on goal. Fulham have had two and have been in their own defensive third for most of the match.
44 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
[breathes in] BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
43 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
42 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
Just going to spend the next couple of posts having my say on the strict application of dated offside laws being used in conjunction with video, and how the use of Photoshop lines to decide that a centimetre of a boot is offside two passes for the actual finish is ridiculous.
The offside rule is stupid
Var steals a goal away from us because a tiny bit of Saka's boot was offside. It's so stupid. Change the rule ffs
CEBALLOS SCORES! A header?!
Arsenal 1 Fulham 0
Arsenal lull Fulham to sleep like Jigglypuff with their constant passing and then all of a sudden a cross is clipped in, Saka controls, Bellerin crosses again and Ceballos heads with a brilliant Shearer-like effort to find the top corner.
Aaaaaaand Var is abotu to come in and ruin it for everyone.
36 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
Still no chances for Arsenal. Not quite the goal fest we'd hoped for.
33 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
This graphic shows what I'm on about with Elneny in a non-scribbled way:
I am reliably informed that they've done this before with Partey in the sole midfielder role, forming a sort of ring around him. It's all very clever but I wonder if they wouldn't have greater success in chance creation by just punting the ball long into the area.
31 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
Saka tries to go round the outside of Cordova Reid with a burst of pace into the area but gets a hand on his shoulder and falls down. There's no foul, he's just off balance.
28 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
Fulham aren't really looking to counter-attack when they do win the ball. Lookman steals the ball from Saka but the team slow down and get into their shape rather than trying to hit Arsenal in transition. Then they win a free-kick and have a chance to get the ball in the box. Ryan plucks it out the air.
25 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
While I was typing that last post Fulham almost scored! Having managed to get up the pitch for about the first time in the game, the ball drops loose in the box and a scuffed shot almost rolls in past a desperate Ryan, who can't get onto his feet quickly enough to reach it. Had it been on target, Fulham would have the lead.
22 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
This is the unique tactic from Arteta that I was talking about a few minutes ago:
Fulham dropping ever deeper because Arsenal have total control of the ball.
19 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
Lots of Arsenal possession, Fulham dropping deep behind the ball.
15 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
Bellerin does a couple of slide tackle lunges after losing the ball and connects well with each one. Nothing really to add about that other than you don't really see good slide tackles that much. Game is gone.
12 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
I genuinely don't think I've ever seen a team do this. The centre-backs push up ahead of the centre-circle and Elneny is the only holding midfielder. Everyone else goes wide except the forwards further up the pitch.
10 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
Ceballos is taking up positions wide left here as well, leaving Elneny almost as a solo midfielder at times. It's really clever and makes sense since all the space is in wide areas, so by moving Ceballos out to the left at times, Arsenal have an overload. Fulham basically have five or six players completely out of the game.
8 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
Fulham trying to block at half way but Arsenal are moving the ball quickly and finding space on the wings.
And using that space, Smith Rowe runs into the box and round the outside of a defender, taking a clever extra touch to win space for a cut back which sets up a shot from six yards! Somehow (I think) Martinelli shoots without power and the goalie can save.
5 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
It is Saka wide right and Martinelli on the left as I predicted. In fact that drawing below is pretty much nailed on.
2 mins - Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
SO CLOSE! Martinelli almost scores in the opening 30 seconds of the game! A long pass over the top for him on the left, Lacazette pokes a pass through, Martinelli lifts it over the goalie but wide of the far post.
A minute's silence, then the players take the knee, then we're off.
Tis a lovely day in sunny London
Can confirm. The sun is so bright that my laptop is genuinely struggling in the heat of the sunlight and I can't really see the screen. It's not even hot outside so what we have here are absolutely perfect conditions for fast attacking football. I have high hopes for this game. Seven goals minimum.
Good luck, Fulham
I am a fan of Alexandre Lacazette
That photo of Lacazette taking the knee in front of the Slavia Prague team last week was bad ass. So cool. Obviously a fairly horrible situation and one which could have been dealt with so much better by Uefa and Slavia Prague... but maybe it'll take something like that to shift certain peoples' minds along on certain political ideas, like the radical one that you shouldn't treat people differently based on the colour of their skin. Anyway, Sam Dean wrote this excellent piece on that night:
How the teams might actually look
This is what I think the teams will do in the game:
Xhaka is at left-back and will tuck into a back three mostly, with either Martinelli or Saka playing wide left, hugging the touchline. Elneny will likely play left in the double pivot to cover for this and provide extra support... or he might start on the right to cover for Bellerin's attacking runs. The second is more likely actually. So basically this Arsenal drawing is mostly wrong.
Also, I've forgotten to draw an arrow for Aina, who will also run on the overlap a lot.
Scott Parker is a very good manager
But don't take my word for it, trust the wise writing of Dan Zeqiri!
This how the teams will look today:
Arsenal vs Fulham
Hello there and welcome to a London derby, even if it doesn't really feel like one. Today's contestants are the mighty Arsenal, clinging on to faint hopes of a Champions League spot - not going to happen - and edging up the cliff of Europa League qualification. They take on Fulham who have a very slight chance of avoiding relegation. It's probably not going to happen but stranger things have happened. The problem is those strange things tend to be Sam Allardyce shaped.
Fulham absolutely cannot lose today.
This is what Scott Parker has had to say ahead of the game:
"Young players give you that (energy), of course they do, that's what I want from my players and my team.
"I want an energy, I want a resilience, an excitement to go and play football, go and showcase their quality and if they can do that and execute (that) then we can win a game.
"There's tension there, there's pressure there, but when you're in the Premier League there's pressure every week, you're always in the spotlight.
"You're always one bad result away individually as players, one mistake away from being highlighted, because of the stature of this division but there is pressure there. What is always the difference between teams that are successful and players and top players is that they handle those pressures well.
"They can handle those pressures, they can still execute and play, they don't let those pressures drown them, they don't listen to the noise too much, they understand what it is and the processes that they need to follow and that's what you often find in the best of the best."
Kick off is 1:30pm, stay with us for live updates.