Robert Pires broke Fulham hearts with an added-time winner to boost Arsenal’s title aspirations and shatter the Whites’ hopes of claiming only a second point at Highbury in sixteen points.

It looked like Jean Tigana’s might be facing a heavy defeat when Pires headed the Gunners ahead after a period of prolonged early pressure. Fulham, further discomforted by the loss of Sylvain Legwinski to injury inside the first ten minutes, had to draw on serious reserves of character, to stay in the game as the hosts peppered Maik Taylor’s goal with chances.

But the visitors began to assert themselves on the contest with Steed Malbranque and Steed Marlet becoming more influential and posing problems for the Arsenal defence. Malbranque levelled matters with a brilliant volley after Arsene Wenger’s had failed to clear their lines and that exquisite equaliser was fully merited. The Cottagers withstood a late barrage of Arsenal attacks and looked to have survived to claim a precious share of the spoils until Pires prodded home from Francis Jeffers’ cross two minutes into stoppage time.

Defeat was harsh on Fulham who were industrious and inventive in equal measure. They showed guts to still be in the contest after a bright Arsenal start that saw Thierry Henry leave Martin Djetou for dead after twenty seconds before shooting into the side netting. Former Highbury winger Luis Boa Morte cleared off the line from a Pires cross-shot but the Portuguese winger failed to track the Frenchman’s run into the area moments later and he had the simplest of tasks to head Henry’s pinpoint cross home.

Taylor did brilliantly in the Fulham goal, rushing from his line to deny Henry as the French forward raced onto a Pires pass and the pressure continued after the break. Henry was agonisingly close to touching in a Wiltord cross and when Wiltord did beat Taylor from close range his goal was ruled out for offside. Fulham’s rearguard, expertly marshalled by Alain Goma, held firm even after Francis Jeffers was sent on for the final twenty minutes.

Wiltord twice almost got behind the Fulham defence from passes from Sol Campbell and Dennis Bergkamp.

Taylor tipped over a venomous volley from the former Everton forward, who then laid on a glorious chance for Gilberto Silva but the Brazilian rattled the post from eight yards out. It appeared as though Fulham would hold on for a creditable draw that their disciplined defending but Pires popped up in stoppage time to pinch the points for the Gunners.

ARSENAL (4-4-2): Seaman; Lauren (Toure 84), Cole, Keown, Campbell; Pires, Vieira, Gilberto Silva (van Bronckhorst 79), Wiltord (Jeffers 70); Bergkamp, Henry. Subs (not used: Taylor, Cygan.

BOOKED: Lauren, Henry, Toure.

GOALS: Pires (17, 90+2).

FULHAM (4-4-2): Taylor; Finnan, Harley, Goma, Djetou; Davis, Legwinski (Melville 10), Malbranque, Boa Morte; Marlet, Sava (Saha 69). Subs (not used): Herrera, Wome, Goldbaek.

BOOKED: Melville.

GOAL: Malbranque (28).

REFEREE: Eddie Wolstenholme (Lancashire).