A lackluster Arsenal attack bounced back in a huge way in its critical home fixture against Fulham.
However, the club's defensive issues continued. Despite leading the EPL in defense going in, the Gunners have struggled more recently in that department, and it was reflected in an entertaining but disappointing 3-3 draw.
A sold-out crowd of 60,000 were in attendance to see if the Gunners could notch three points and climb further in the Barclays Premier League table against a Cottagers club that has never won at Arsenal.
Unfortunately, the host couldn't quite pull through, as the Gunners blew an early 2-0 lead and had to recover just to tie. Much of that was due to the outstanding play of Fulham forward Dimitar Berbatov, but the early momentum sided heavily with the Gunners.
Olivier Giroud had an outstanding game, leading the way with two goals in a day of seemingly constant offense.
He sailed a questionable, distant strike well over the net early on when he suddenly took possession deep in Fulham's half of the field. But just moments later, Arsenal had a corner kick, and the Gunner striker redeemed himself by slamming home a header in the 10th minute to put the home team on top early, 1-0.
It was Giroud's first EPL goal in Emirates Stadium.
Cottager midfielder Kieran Richardson was racing in for a scoring chance around the 20' mark, but his left hamstring gave out on him. He can't seem to catch a break, as he missed the club's last match with food poisoning.
Attacking midfielder Santi Cazorla of Arsenal began a sequence that put the Cottagers in even more of an early hole. He kicked it to Theo Walcott, who delivered a beautiful touch pass to Mikel Arteta.
The Arsenal vice-captain then dribbled into the box and crossed it to new acquisition Lukas Podolski, who drove it home for a commanding 2-0 lead at 23'. It was the first goal for Podolski since September 15th, when he scored in a 6-1 win over lowly Southampton.
The entire complexion of the game shifted, however, as Fulham showed signs of life after a very sluggish start.
Berbatov continued his strong play in the EPL, heading home a goal in the 29th minute off of a corner by Bryan Ruiz to cut the Arsenal advantage to 2-1.
And he wasn't done.
Berbatov made a phenomenal run down the right sideline and delivered a beautiful cross to the center. Alex Kakaniclic proved to be an exceptional replacement for Richardson on the wing, heading home the equalizer at 39'. Goalkeeper Vito Mannone got a hand on it, but the ball trickled in, barely staying inside the post.
After another late push by Fulham in the opening half's extra time, renowned football writer Philippe Auclair gave his humorous analysis of the action:
...so nearly 3-2 for Fulham, but Mertesacker saves the day. Just. A few boos at h/t. Weird game, this.— Philippe Auclair (@PhilippeAuclair) November 10, 2012
A very strange but entertaining game indeed—and the madness continued.
As he did in the first half, Giroud redeemed himself after missing on a stellar cross from Walcott early in the second. Berbatov converted a free kick off of an Arteta penalty to put the Cottagers up 3-2, but Giroud responded in a big way.
He fired a shot off the post, but Walcott crossed it back to him from close range, and Giroud whipped a header into the open net to knot the match again. Giroud nearly had a hat trick at 79' but a great save by Schwarzer prevented that.
Several chances were to be had for each squad down the stretch, but none more obvious than Arteta's free kick in the waning moments. He couldn't capitalize from point-blank range after a handball call against the Cottagers, which resulted in a point for each side.
A victory by Fulham would have been its first ever in Emirates Stadium, but the Cottagers did remain unbeaten in their past four fixtures overall against the Gunners.
As exciting as this game had to be for those in attendance, Arsenal fans can't be happy that their club blew a substantial advantage early on, especially since Arteta had a chance to save the day.
Let's hand out some grades to some of the impact players from Saturday's fixture.
Olivier Giroud, A
The forward allowed his club to draw first blood, but also sent a dangerous cross looking for Walcott in the 36th minute after he stuffed a Fulham corner that could have easily made the match 3-1.
But Giroud continued to bounce back from any misses he had throughout the match, and he teamed with Walcott to create plenty of opportunities for the Gunners. His two goals were phenomenal, and definitely saved Arsenal from a truly embarrassing home outcome.
He nearly drove him the game-winner in the 79th minute as well, having what had to be the best game of his Arsenal career.
Lukas Padolski, B
Finally off the goal-scoring schneid for Arsenal, Padolski got a much needed boost of confidence in finding the net for the first time in nearly two months.
He was meant to supplement a lot of goal scoring in the absence of departed striker Robin van Persie, but has been largely underwhelming. In relation to his recent efforts, this was a strong game overall for Padolski, even though he wasn't very effective for the remainder of the match.
Dimitar Berbatov, A+
It was clear throughout this fixture that the Bulgarian veteran was the man of the match. He put Fulham on the board off of a corner, and set up the club's second goal with an outstanding individual push.
After Arteta committed a foul inside the box on Ruiz, a hesitation move by Berbatov on the subsequent free kick fooled Mannone, and put the Cottagers on top for the first time on the day.
The former United standout continues to prove to be a bargain considering the caliber of footballer he is and his relatively modest five million pound salary (h/t The Guardian).
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