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Fulham denied victory at Arsenal by last-gasp Eddie Nketiah equaliser | Premier League

This was one of those afternoons from which nobody, even if they happen to have grasped a point in the seventh minute of stoppage time, goes home feeling happy.

All Arsenal really gained from Eddie Nketiah’s poached equaliser was a modicum of self-esteem, given a win was imperative if they were to keep any degree of heat on the European spots. How that will rankle with Fulham, who were seconds from a win that would have given them a fresh glimmer of light in the survival race. They surely have too much to do now; the Championship looks certain to be their next destination while Arsenal seem set for mid-table, hoping against hope that the Europa League offers salvation.

Scott Parker’s players sunk to their knees at full time, left heartbroken by a game’s last action for the second successive week, after Wolves’ winner. They had almost survived a barrage from Arsenal after Josh Maja, emphatically converting a penalty just before the hour, had given them licence to look upwards. Alphonse Areola had kept them in front with a string of outstanding stops and appeared to have stolen the show when, in a singular twist, his opposite number helped break their resistance.

When Mat Ryan sprinted upfield as Arsenal packed the box for a last-gasp corner, it was tempting to joke that it was his best chance of touching the ball. He had not faced a shot on target bar the spot-kick but now, running on to Bukayo Saka’s outswinger, he won a header at the near post and glanced it across the danger area. Dani Ceballos lashed the loose ball towards goal and Areola, diving to his right, diverted it to his right. Areola’s efforts had been more than enough all afternoon but this time Nketiah, characteristically poised to poach, was placed to break Fulham’s hearts.

“The difference today was a decision at the end that I didn’t agree with,” Parker said. Fulham contended that Rob Holding, who was clearly offside, had been in Areola’s line of sight as Ceballos shot. A VAR review, far from the game’s first, seemed to bear that out but the goal stood, apparently because Holding made no attempt to play the ball. “We’ve got the best goalkeeper in the division bar none in terms of controlling his box,” Parker continued. “If Holding isn’t there I suspect he comes and collects.”

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Arsenal had their own technology-related grievances, as most sides do nowadays. The severity of its application debases the sport on a regular basis that will, unless there is some serious pushback, become insidiously normalised.

Arsenal had started the game well, Gabriel Martinelli missing a good early opportunity before forcing a one-handed stop from Areola, and thought Fulham had been breached when Ceballos met Héctor Bellerín’s cross with a precise header in the 41st minute. At considerable length, VAR’s unimpeachable buffet of lines and angles gave Fulham an escape route: Saka had apparently, by the length of a toe, stepped beyond Antonee Robinson before supplying Bellerín.

Fulham players can hardly believe it after they saw victory slip from their grasp after 97 minutes
Fulham players can hardly believe it after they saw victory slip from their grasp after 97 minutes. Photograph: Julian Finney/PA

“We deserved to win the match with the chances we created,” Mikel Arteta said. But he has to sing that song every other week and it is why Arsenal will do well to finish higher than ninth now. They only threatened to slip up once in the first half, Holding deflecting Maja’s close-range effort inches wide, but blundered during a rare Fulham foray after the break.

Gabriel had cut out Mario Lemina’s first attempt at a through pass but, as the ball ran free again, was beaten to it by the visitors’ midfielder. Down Lemina went: it was fair, after another recourse to Stockley Park, to surmise he had sought out the contact but Craig Pawson’s original decision to award the penalty was upheld and Maja kept cool.

Fulham retreated but Areola, saving marvellously from Nicolas Pépé’s header before denying Martinelli and Nketiah as the minutes subsided, came close to doing enough. Saka, who had struck the outside of a post earlier, whipped a shot fractionally over. Nketiah’s first league goal since September came after he had replaced Lacazette, who departed with a hamstring problem that looks ominous given Arsenal’s impending semi-final with Villarreal.

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“I cannot tell you if it’s going to be a week, two weeks, three weeks, five weeks,” Arteta said of any lay-off for Lacazette. It will be an anxious wait to find out, given their season will now be dead if they cannot overcome the La Liga side. He denied knowledge of reports Arsenal are among a cabal that have signed up for a European Super League, although nobody could blame him if he had done so through embarrassment.

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For Parker there was pride through the frustration and the stubborn hope that, even with a visit to Chelsea up next, Fulham can still find oxygen. “I’m absolutely gutted but we go again,” he said. “This team has shown that we can come to big football clubs and give big performances.” It is unlikely to be enough.

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