Late heartbreak for Fulham as last-gasp Arsenal deliver another huge blow to their survival hopes
Arsenal (0) 1 Nketiah 90
Fulham (0) 1 Maja pen 59
A Josh Maja penalty came so close to giving the Whites a first ever win at Arsenal and reviving fading hopes of a miraculous escape from the drop.
But a goal deep into seven minutes of injury time by sub Eddie Nketiah rescued a draw for the Gunners and broke Fulham hearts.
Maja’s goal was a first for the on-loan striker from Bordeaux since his double at Everton which brought a ground-breaking win at another bogey stadium a couple of months ago.
It looked as if the script had been written in the stars.
But a last-gasp corner, headed on by debutant Arsenal keeper Mat Ryan, joining the attack in desperation, was fired back across goal by Dani Ceballos and although Alphonse Areola got his hand to it, Nketiah was waiting to pounce.
The odds would still have been against the Whites pulling off the near-impossible, with only five to play, but had they held on, that belief would have been elevated just a notch. As it is, this looks like another nail in the coffin.
With five to play, they remain six points adrift of Burnley and Brighton, who both have two games in hand.
Arsenal, outstanding in the midweek win at Slavia Prague, showed none of the incisiveness and determination which characterised that 4-0 Europa League triumph. Domestically, they remain resolutely mid-table and bafflingly inconsistent. But they salvaged something at the death.
Fulham went into this game badly in need of another left-field victory like the one at Liverpool to stand any chance of survival.
No longer is it likely that a win in their remaining two home games will be enough, following the desperate run of four defeats which followed the Anfield triumph – and a resurgence by Newcastle carrying the Geordies nine points clear.
The omens were not good heading to Emirates either.
None of the eight wins achieved by Fulham in 58 previous encounters with the Gunners had been in north London and the last six meetings had all ended in Arsenal wins – with a combined goals tally of 3-18.
And the writing seemed to be on the wall in the opening moments, when Alexandre Lacazette found Gabriel Martinelli lurking on the edge of the area with a chip and his team-mate lifted the ball over Areola and just inches wide.
Areola was soon having to get down low to stab from Martinelli after Emile Smith Rowe had darted to the byline after seizing on a lucky deflection off Ademola Lookman and another tough afternoon looked on the cards.
But the Whites recovered from the early wobble and started to look comfortable, if not exactly threatening.
There was a moment to encourage thoughts of something better for them when Bobby Reid’s deflected drive fell to Maja on the edge of the box and a first-time shot crept narrowly wide after ricocheting off Rob Holding.
Fulham got lucky five minutes before the break – as they were against Wolves recently – when a VAR check erased an apparent opener from a deft Ceballos header.
The cross stood up to the far post from Hector Bellerin was okay but it was a toe ahead of the last defender in the build up from Bukayo Saka which caused the cancellation.
Lacazette fired just wide in a breakaway at the start of the second half – the result of Fulham pouring forward in numbers, under obvious instruction to gamble.
Saka got around Antonee Robinson and from the acutest of angles fired against the outside of a post.
But then came the moment when hope was re-ignited in the shape of a penalty and another heart-stopping VAR check. Mario Lemina followed up after an attack had broken up and was just too quick for Gabriel, who could not get to the ball ahead of the onrushing Fulham midfielder.
Maja tucked away the spot-kick high and into the centre of the net at the Clock End, as if he does that sort of thing all the time.
Mikel Arteta made changes, bringing on Nicolas Pepe, who had a header blocked on the line by Areola’s outstretched foot and hooked clear by Tosin. Saka arced an effort just over the angle of crossbar and post. Martinelli tested Areola low down by his near post.
But the overriding impression was of another mostly anemic performance from the Gunners. One which gave a resolute Fulham hope of an unlikely win. It was not to be.
Gunners: Ryan – Bellerin (Pepe 68), Holding, Gabriel, Xhaka – Elneny (Partey 68), Ceballos – Saka, Smith Rowe, Martinelli – Lacazette (Nketiah 70). Subs not used: Leno, Willian, Cedric, Chambers, Mari, Nelson
Whites: Areola – Aina, Andersen, Toisin, Robinson – Reid, Anguissa, Lemina, Lookman (Reed 69) – Cavaleiro (Bryan 84), Maja (Loftus-Cheek 77). Subs not used: Fabri, Hector, Odoi, Mitrovic, Ream, Onomah