Arsenal’s bid to cling onto their status as Champions League regulars suffered another serious blow as they were held 0-0 by Fulham in Saturday’s Premier League clash at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsene Wenger’s team missed the chance to heap pressure on fourth-placed Aston Villa, who play on Sunday, as they recorded a fourth consecutive scoreless draw for the first time since October 1993, when George Graham was in charge.
The notoriously miserly Graham would doubtless have approved of Arsenal’s class of 2009 keeping six consecutive clean sheets, but that is of little consolation to Wenger, whose attack continues to malfunction dreadfully.
They were in control for most of this London derby but, for all Arsenal’s possession, Fulham hardly had to endure a siege in their quest for a point.
Their Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer had to make just a handful of meaningful saves but, in general, he was well protected by his stout-hearted defence.
The concern for Arsenal is that these results no longer constitute a surprise. Fulham might boast one of the worst away records in the Premier League, having failed to win away from home all season.
But there was still an air of predictability in seeing the Gunners labour so desperately and they were greeted by a torrent of abuse from disgruntled home fans at full-time.
Whenever Arsenal fail to plunder an early goal, they condemn themselves to a tortuous afternoon and, here, it was Fulham who made the brighter start.
In the first 10 minutes alone, they might have been three goals up: Simon Davies volleyed over from Danny Murphy’s clever pass, Andrew Johnson fizzed just wide after a quicksilver turn had left Kolo Toure grasping at air and Clint Dempsey saw his curling shot smothered.
Arsenal, unused at confronting such feisty opponents on home soil, were reduced to the role of groggy spectators and it needed a moment of inspiration from Andrey Arshavin to shake them out of their lethargy.
The Russian made good progress down the right flank and chipped a delicate cross towards Robin van Persie. The Dutchman was all alone six yards out but directed his header too close to Schwarzer, who palmed it over the crossbar.
Schwarzer was van Persie’s scourge throughout the first half. The Gunners’ leading goalscorer was left one-on-one with Schwarzer again in the 19th minute after another canny Arshavin pass, but the former Middlesbrough goalkeeper again saved brilliantly.
Wenger’s mood will not have been helped by a glance at his bench, which revealed a chronic lack of attacking options.
Instead, the Frenchman had to place his faith in van Persie, but Arsenal’s talisman was having one of his exasperating afternoons, his luck summed up in the 59th minute when he met Bacary Sagna’s centre with an angled header, only for the ball to kiss the left-hand post.
Nicklas Bendtner and Emmanuel Eboue, were duly dispatched from the bench – to decidedly lukewarm receptions – as Wenger grew desperate but still Fulham held firm.
There were anxious moments, and Schwarzer was at his agile best again in the 74th minute when he acrobatically blocked Abou Diaby’s downward header.
That suggested there might yet there be a grandstand finish but, once again, it failed to materialise and Arsenal’s players trooped off with the boos of their home faithful ringing in their ears. It is becoming a familiar soundtrack in these parts.