Saturday 1 February 2003, 3:00pm at Highbury, London
Barclays Premier League
Arsenal
Arsenal
2
Pires 17', 90'
Fulham FC
Fulham
1
Malbranque 29'
Robert Pires' last-gasp and second goal for Arsenal denied Fulham a deserved point from their match at Highbury, after Steed Malbranque had earlier equalised for the Whites.

17' Goal

Robert Pires

90' Goal

Robert Pires

10' Yellow Card

Lauren Card was given for a foul

69' Yellow Card

Thierry Henry Card was given for a foul

87' Yellow Card

Kolo Touré Card was given for a foul

70' Substitution

Player was substituted for tactical reasons
On:Francis Jeffers
Off:Sylvain Wiltord

79' Substitution

Player was substituted for tactical reasons
On:Giovanni van Bronckhorst
Off:Gilberto Silva

84' Substitution

Player was substituted for tactical reasons
On:Kolo Touré
Off:Lauren

29' Goal

Steed Malbranque

89' Yellow Card

Andy Melville Card was given for a foul

10' Substitution

Player was substituted due to an injury
On:Andy Melville
Off:Sylvain Legwinski

69' Substitution

Player was substituted for tactical reasons
On:Louis Saha
Off:Facundo Sava

0
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90

To have relinquished two points once in a week, Arsenal so plainly felt, was unfortunate. Twice would have been mighty careless. For 90 largely uncomfortable minutes at Highbury that looked very much on the cards until Robert Pires prevented any further damage to his team's title defence. The timing was poetic. Three days previously a late goal at Anfield had turned an Arsenal win into a draw; here slipping points were gleefully retrieved.

It was bitterly harsh on Jean Tigana's resilient men, whose energy and work rate had been exemplary.

The omens for Fulham were not good when their team coach turned into Avenell Road closely tailed by an ambulance emergency support service van. Ominously, Arsenal were almost ahead on 23 seconds, as Sylvain Wiltord smuggled the ball to Thierry Henry, whose shot brushed the side netting. Soon after, Henry's delicate touch invited Robert Pires to soar up the left flank and flick towards Dennis Bergkamp, hovering with intent inside the six-yard box. Only a critical hand from goalkeeper Maik Taylor averted a goal.

Surely Fulham couldn't afford to let the champions have it all their own way so soon if they wanted to avert a hiding. Indeed, the feisty and influential Sean Davis led by example as his team began to stake a claim for a reasonable percentage of the midfield battleground.

Once Fulham settled down they found the confidence to ask questions of Arsène Wenger's side. When the lively Luis Boa Morte cut in from the left wing and found Facundo Sava with a clever pass Arsenal were left horribly exposed. As the Argentine 'Zorro' bore down on a duel with David Seaman, the North Bank were relieved to see Ashley Cole arrive to rob Sava with a crucially timed and cleanly executed tackle in the box.

Chastened, Arsenal went up the other end to take the lead. Breaking with typically pacy passing through Vieira, via Bergkamp, to Henry, Fulham were suddenly overstretched. Henry eased past Finnan to float a cross into space at the far post. Any sign of any Fulham defenders there? Mais, non. But there was Pires, unmarked, to nod with the minimal of fuss into the far corner. It was the Frenchman's sixth goal in 10 Premiership starts since returning from his cruciate ligament knee injury.

Arsenal threatened their own lead with moments of defensive hesitancy and just before the half hour Fulham hauled themselves back into the game. Arsenal couldn't deal with Finnan's lofted ball into the area, which was headed back out by Marlet towards his compatriot Malbranque. Fulham's chief source of goals at the moment cracked a super volley past Seaman, his fifth in three games.

Arsenal were in one of those moods where their ability to toy with their opponents was not quite matched by their attitude. Henry led attempts to restore the lead, first hampered by Taylor's brave block, then curling the ball too close to challenge the keeper.

Fulham were more than holding their own, though. Defending stoutly, squeezing midfield, and breaking when the opportunity presented itself, this was a good deal closer than a fixture usually regarded in the two managers' home country as France A versus France B. One of Fulham's supposedly second-class Frenchmen, Martin Djetou, impressed as a makeshift midfielder after Sylvain Legwinski limped off. Another, Marlet, crafted the first genuine opening of the second half when he turned Sol Campbell with frightening ease on the edge of the box. His swivelling shot drifted fractionally wide. Arsenal hearts beat that little bit faster. With it, their passing began to go to pot.

Arsenal's anxiety shifted into frustration, symbolised when Henry earned himself a caution for arguing with a debatable offside decision. Presumably Wenger was also irritated, for he unleashed Francis Jeffers in a bid to inject a more urgent threat.

The effect was instant. Jeffers controlled Vieira's pass to tee himself up for a ferocious volley, which Taylor agilely tipped over the bar. The youngster made quite an impact, busying himself in the area from a corner and settling up Gilberto, whose angled drive shook the far post.

Jeffers was again involved with excellent lay-off for Vieira who could only manage a spectacular fresh air kick. He fared better with another late attempt, but clubbed his low strike wide.

Just as the home fans had all but given up hope, Giovanni Van Bronckhorst's clever flick found Jeffers, whose touch was marvellous to nudge the ball across goal for Pires to bundle in from all of one yard. Highbury the library found its voice at the last. With Manchester United winning, they knew that late strike was significant .

Match Information

Competition: Barclays Premier League

Date: Saturday 1 February 2003
Kick-off: 3:00pm

Venue: Highbury, London
Attendance: 38,050

Referee: Eddie Wolstenhome

Arsenal

Line-up: Seaman; Lauren (Touré 84'), Keown, Campbell, Cole; Wiltord (Jeffers 70'), Vieira, Gilberto Silva (van Bronckhorst 79'), Pires; Henry, Bergkamp

Unused substitutes: Taylor, Cygan

Fulham

Line-up: Taylor; Finnan, Djetou, Goma, Harley; Malbranque, Legwinski (Melville 10'), Davis, Boa Morte; Sava (Saha 69'), Marlet

Unused substitutes: Herrera, Wome, Goldbaek

As It Stood Table

Pos Club Pl Pts
1 Arsenal 26 56
2 Manchester United 25 50
3 Newcastle United 25 48
4 Chelsea 26 45
5 Everton 26 45
6 Liverpool 25 39
7 Southampton 26 39
8 Charlton Athletic 26 39
9 Tottenham Hotspur 26 39
10 Manchester City 26 37
11 Blackburn Rovers 25 34
12 Aston Villa 25 32
13 Leeds United 26 31
14 Middlesbrough 25 30
15 Fulham 25 27
16 Birmingham City 25 26
17 Bolton Wanderers 26 24
18 West Bromwich Albion 25 20
19 West Ham United 25 20
20 Sunderland 26 19
Arsenal (4-4-2)
  • David Seaman
  • 4Lauren
  • 14Martin Keown
  • 5Sol Campbell
  • 3Ashley Cole
  • Sylvain Wiltord
  • 24Patrick Vieira
  • Gilberto Silva
  • 7Robert Pires
  • 14Thierry Henry
  • 10Dennis Bergkamp
Substitutes
  • 12Stuart Taylor
  • 5Kolo Touré
  • 18Pascal Cygan
  • Giovanni van Bronckhorst
  • Francis Jeffers
Fulham (4-4-2)
  • 12Maik Taylor
  • 2Steve Finnan
  • 17Martin Djetou
  • 24Alain Goma
  • 26Jon Harley
  • 14Steed Malbranque
  • 18Sylvain Legwinski
  • 23Sean Davis
  • 11Luis Boa Morte
  • 9Facundo Sava
  • 7Steve Marlet
Substitutes
  • Martin Herrera
  • 4Andy Melville
  • 27Pierre Wome
  • 19Bjarne Goldbaek
  • 20Louis Saha