It was so close to a super start to the season for Lawrie Sanchez. Handing the toughest of tests on the Premier League’s opening weekend, Fulham could hardly believe their luck when they were gifted the opening goal inside the first minute. The eccentric Jens Lehmann scuffed his clearance of a backpass and David Healy had the perfect start to his Fulham career – a simple tap-in.
Fulham owed their lead, which they held for the next 85 minutes, to their dogged defending and a brilliant performance from stand-in goalkeeper Tony Warner. The former Milwall and Cardiff man, only in the side after Antti Niemi injured himself during the warm-up, pulled off two fine saves to prevent Tomas Rosicky from equalising before thwarting the Czech international and Alexander Hleb went they raced through on goal. Even Cesc Fabregas couldn’t beat him; Warner blocking brilliantly with legs as the Spaniard seemed certain to make the most of a sumptuous through ball from Hleb.
Fulham, with five of Sanchez’s summer signings in their side, had their chances too. The shaky Lehmann let a loose ball slip from his grasp but managed to recover before Healy swooped in to profit for a second time. Simon Davies shot straight at the goalkeeper when he found himself free in the penalty area and, although Sanchez’s side were hanging on a little, with Warner in inspired form, it looked as though they might claim a famous win. The goalkeeper bravely threw himself at Robin van Persie’s feet to deny the Dutchman and Zat Knight followed his example, blocking a Rosicky shot.
Wenger went for broke, throwing on Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner, but it all looked in vain. The Whites lost a little of their impetus when the excellent Alexei Smertin was replaced by Papa Bouba Diop, but didn’t appear too troubled. Until Kolo Toure went crashing to earth in the box that is. The centre back, perhaps disgusted by his the prolifigacy of his team-mates, stormed into the penalty area and fell to the floor under the challenge of Carlos Bocanegra. To the naked eye, the penalty decision seemed harsh but van Persie wasn’t complaining. He gleefully converted the spot-kick.
The Emirates revelled in the equaliser and were spoilt in the last minute of injury time when Arsenal cruelly nicked all three points. Hleb contorted himself this way and that before finding enough space inside the far corner to send his shot past Warner’s despairing dive. There were no points for Fulham’s endeavour, but plenty of pride.
ARSENAL (4-5-1): Lehmann; Sagna, Clichy, Toure, Gallas; Flamini, Fabregas, Rosicky (Bendtner 72), Eboue (Walcott 62), Hleb; van Persie (Song 90). Subs (not used): Almunia, Senderos.
GOALS: van Persie (pen 84), Hleb (90).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Warner; Baird, Konchesky, Knight, Bocanegra; Smertin (Diop 72), Davis, Davies, Bouazza (Dempsey 45); McBride, Healy (Kamara 63). Subs (not used): Volz, Omozusi.
BOOKED: Bocanegra, Smertin, Kamara, Warner, Diop.
GOAL: Healy (1).
REFEREE: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire).