Arsenal surrenders 2-goal lead, held 3-3 by Fulham
(AP Photo/Tom Hevezi)
By ROB HARRIS
AP Sports Writer
LONDON (AP) Arsenal threw away a two-goal lead for the second time this week, with a 3-3 draw against Fulham prolonging the team's worst English Premier League start under Arsene Wenger.
The Gunners appeared to be cruising on Saturday when Olivier Giroud headed them in front and Lukas Podolski fired in another in the 23rd minute.
But just like in Tuesday's 2-2 draw at Schalke in the Champions League, Arsenal's advantage evaporated. In the space of 11 minutes, both Dimitar Berbatov and Alex Kacaniklic were left to score with free headers for Fulham.
Arsenal's troubles deepened in the second half when Berbatov put Fulham ahead from the penalty spot.
Giroud equalized for Arsenal with his second headed goal and the hosts could have won the match in stoppage time but Mikel Arteta's penalty was saved.
"It was frustrating because we had the opportunities to win," Wenger said. "We were caught in a bit too comfortable of a position because we did the most difficult thing - we scored two goals to go 2-0 up. At that moment we lacked urgency defensively.
"In the second half we gave absolutely everything and I have to give credit to the players, in the last three games what they have done physically is amazing. Even at 3-2 down we didn't give up and continued to go forward and we had the chances to win the game."
But after 11 matches, Arsenal has just 16 points in seventh place and is ahead of Fulham only on goal difference. That's even worse than this time last season when Arsenal had collected 19 points, the previous worst start since Wenger arrived in 1996.
While the climax at Emirates Stadium was thrilling, the first half was played at a slow pace - despite delivering four goals.
After scoring in the midweek Champions League draw at Schalke, Theo Walcott was rewarded with just his second league start of the season.
And Walcott set up the opener, accurately pinging in the corner that Giroud met after rising above Aaron Hughes. Goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer got a touch to Giroud's header but was unable to keep it out in the 11th.
There was a double setback for Fulham when Kieran Richardson was forced off with hamstring trouble and Kacaniklic was still to come on when Arsenal went further ahead in the 23rd.
Fulham was unpicked down the right before Arteta cut the ball back past Chris Baird to Podolski six yards from goal and the Germany forward swept the ball into the net.
Arsenal's two-goal cushion didn't reflect the possession Fulham had enjoyed and the visitors made amends in the 29th.
Bryan Ruiz floated in a corner that Berbatov rose unmarked to meet and he sent the downward header with ease over the line. Vito Mannone and Arteta watched helplessly as the ball went between them.
Arsenal didn't tighten up at the back in response with Berbatov then beating Podolski on the right and finding the space to cross into the penalty area where Kacaniklic darted in to head Fulham level.
Apart from the goals, the first half offered little to excite, with Arsenal booed off at halftime.
At the start of the second half, Arsenal missed the chance to regain its lead when Giroud couldn't rise high enough to meet Walcott's cross.
But just as Arsenal seemed to be taking control, Arteta tangled with Ruiz and referee Phil Dowd awarded a penalty kick.
Berbatov coolly slotted into the bottom left from the spot in the 67th, with Mannone remaining almost static as Fulham went in front for the first time.
But only for two minutes.
Giroud stormed into the penalty area from the left flank and struck against the far post. The rebound fell to Walcott and the winger picked out Giroud, who sent a glancing header into the net. Walcott was later forced off with an injury to a muscle in the buttock.
"The positives are that we can score goals now," Wenger said. "The negatives are to concede three goals at home of course, and the chances we gave away, defensively it wasn't an historic performance."
The frantic second half nearly had one final twist when Andrei Arshavin's shot hit Fulham defender Sascha Riether's arm, but Schwarzer dived the right way to block Arteta's spotkick.
Fulham manager Martin Jol thought Arshavin intentionally aimed at Riether.
"The referee was pleased not to see (the penalty) go in," Jol quipped.
Updated November 10, 2012