Preamble: Arsenal v Fulham could be the middle-class derby of football. A nice fixture. Real nice. For the next two hours, warm Carling will be replaced by 37 degrees fahrenheit Pinot Grigio, Pukka Pies by Waitrose ethical foie gras and good honest violence by excruciatingly transparent passive aggression.
Actually, Arsenal and Fulham are two of the more likeable Premier League sides, partly because Arsene Wenger and Martin Jol are two of the few elite managers who still demonstrate discernible signs of humanity and decency. They have some very likeable players too, including Santi Cazorla and Dimitar Berbatov, the personification of sexy football and a man whose first touch is a unique fusion of velvet, velcro and viagra.
Unusually, these sides come together as equals. Arsenal are seventh and Fulham eighth, with both on 15 points and both playing 4-3-3: four wins, three draws and three defeats. In a sense, however, their roles have been reversed. This season Arsenal, in the league at least, have had the binary anonymity of Roy Hodgson or Mark Hughes's Fulham. If you discount the six pieces of candy they took from Southampton, Arsenal have scored nine in nine league games, while their defence is the tightest in English football.
Fulham, by contrast, are not unlike 2008-12 Arsenal, with plenty going in at both ends. That's often the way with any team managed by the wonderful Martin Jol, the Jeffrey Lebowski of world football.
That's a bit of a rubbish ending to the preamble, isn't it? Between us, I can't think of anything else to write. Team news please!
Arsenal (4-2-3-1) Mannone; Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen; Coquelin, Arteta; Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski; Giroud.
Subs: Szczesny, Andre Santos, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Arshavin,
Fulham (4-2-3-1) Schwarzer; Riether, Hughes, Hangeland, Riise; Baird, Sidwell; Dejagah, Ruiz, Richardson; Berbatov.
Subs: Stockdale, Senderos, Petric, Karagounis, Duff, Rodallega, Kacaniklic.
Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire)
Emails please! Please. Seriously.
1 min After a minute's silence for Armistice Day, Dimitar Berbatov caresses the sphere towards Bryan Ruiz to signal the commencement of the contest. Fulham are playing from right to left. They are in white; Arsenal are in red and white.
2 min "Dearest, Rob," says Ian Copestake. "Can we please get through an entire Berbatov 90 minutes (or 60 mins before he is out of breath and taken off) without mentioning Gitanes? Thanks. What? Oh."
3 min "Jol is a preposterously prepossessing character, but Jeffery Lebowski?" says Phil Podolsky. "I was thinking more Caspar from Miller's Crossing who, unlike El Duderino, can be bothered to act ruthlessly when the situation calls for just that." Maybe. But he'd never slap his own kid and then say "Awwww somebody hit you?" or get in a tangle about ettics.
4 min It's been all Fulham so far, and Bryan Ruiz almost gives them the lead with a deflected shot from 20 yards that spins over Mannone and just wide.
6 min Arsenal's first spell of possession brings a free-kick when Theo Walcott, superstarter, is fouled by John Arne Riise. Nothing comes of it. It's been a good, open start to the game. A nice start. Real nice.
7 min Are there any Arsenal fans reading who want Wenger sacked? If so, let's hear it.
8 min "Ah, Berbatov," says Simon McMahon. "The Camus of English football. Can you post my favourite picture of him, the one where he is rolling a fag after eating a plate of full English dressed in his Man Utd club blazer and tie, with a glass of whisky at his side?" I'm afraid I don't have any photographs of your deviant dreams. But there is this beauty, which, as my brilliant colleague Georgina Turner said, is "drenched in lust".
10 min No real chances yet at either end. Berbatov looks lively. The joy of working from someone who rates and trusts you, eh?
GOAL! Arsenal 1-0 Fulham (Giroud 11) Walcott wins Arsenal's first corner – and it leads to the first goal. It was almost offensively straightforward. The corner was swung out by Walcott, and Giroud got away from Aaron Hughes to thump a near-post header through the left hand of Schwarzer from six yards. The inadequacies of man-to-man marking are exposed yet again. It was a good header but the defending from Hughes was awful.
13 min "Notice the pace of Arsenal's attack when Walcott is present," says Johnny G. "Allows for a player like Cazorla to open up the defense or for a player like Giroud to lumber into position." I'd still use Walcott as a substitute in a lot of games. Anyone who can terrorise Barcelona in that role must have something going for him.
15 min Given the power of some of his recent headers, particularly today's, it's fair to opine that Olivier Giroud is not a gentleman from whom one would like to receive a Glasgow kiss.
16 min Fulham have had most of the ball since the goal, and had much of it before the goal. Their away record against the big sides has been pretty appalling from the last few years, but the way they are playing suggests they think they can get something today.
19 min"So who are the other decent people among the elite managers," says Sam Abrahams, "and who's the nicest manager in the history of the Premier League?" Tony Mowbray maybe? He seems a very nice bloke. Jol of course. Wenger too, up to a point, although he was an awful loser, really undignified, until it became a semi-regular occurrence. David Moyes is a top man as well.
21 min Kieron Richardson sprints down the left and then pulls up in the manner of a man who has just done his hamstring. I reckon he might have done his hamstring.
GOAL! Arsenal 2-0 Fulham (Podolski 23) Arise Sir Arsene. All is well with Arsenal's world again, for the time being at least. A short throw-in from the right somehow slithered through to the onrushing Arteta on the right side of the box. He moved the ball away from Baird before squaring it across the six-yard line, where Podolski came from behind the ball-watching Riether to poke past Schwarzer. More poor defending in truth.
24 min Richardson has indeed done his hamstring – I told you! – and has been replaced by Alex Kacaniklic.
26 min "Roy Evans was a nice guy wasn't he?" says Gary Naylor. "Loved by Liverpool and Everton fans – but for different reasons I think." The perception of Evans is a little harsh. He got closer to the title than any other Liverpool manager in the last 20 years and Liverpool played their best football of the last 20 years under him.
28 min Apart from the fact they're 2-0 down, Fulham will be pleased with this half. Like, duh and all that, but they have actually played really well; they've just conceded sloppy goals.
GOAL! Arsenal 2-1 Fulham (Berbatov 29) Fulham are back in the game. Ruiz swings in a left-footed corner from the right towards the head of Berbatov, six yards out in a central position, and he Berbatovs it past Mannone with the minimum of fuss.
30 min "Don't rate your MBM," says Alex Netherton. "If you were on Twitter I'd unfollow you."
31 min "I believe the photo Simon is talking about is at the top of the page here," says Jonathan Leeuwenburgh. Oh my, that is a very special picture.
32 min The hitherto quiet Cazorla is fouled just outside the left corner of the box. Theo Walcott lines up the free-kick ... and scuffs a piece of apologetic nonsense towards the near post that is easily cleared.
35 min "In terms of talent, can you (or your twos of other readers) think of a more disappointing player than Arshavin?" says Neill Brown. "Such a shame that he's become a bit-part player in what is clearly a fairly average team. He should be a star of this league." Dennis Bergkamp at Inter? Patrick Kluivert at Newcastle? Andres Iniesta?
37 min Usually football matches start very tight and stilted and get looser as they progress, like English people as they get drunk, but the first half of this game has had the feel of a second half. There haven't been many chances, but it has just felt open.
GOAL! Arsenal 2-2 Fulham (Kacaniklic 40) Now this is Berbarotica. He – and I mean He – has just made an equaliser for Alex Kacaniklic in superb style. He ran down the right side of the penalty area onto a pass from Riether, leaving Koscielny in his slipstream. Then, with all the Arsenal players running desperately towards their own goal, he clipped a deliberate first-time cross behind them all, right on to the head of the unmarked Kacaniklic near the penalty spot. He planted his header into the ground, from where it kicked up to beat Mannone and go into the net off the inside of the far post. Berbatov spreads his arms wide and accepts the loving embrace of his teammates. He is simply magnificent.
42 min Sidwell is booked for a foul on someone or other. I missed it because I was still
cleaning up the me attempting to describe that Kacaniklic goal.
45 min Vermaelen, the emergency left-back, hoofs a long cross straight out of play.
45+2 min Fulham almost went ahead in the last minute of added time. Ruiz played a stunning pass dwont eh left wing with the outside of the left foot. It came to Riise, whose low first-time cross towards the near post was flicked behind his standing leg by Dejagah. It wasn't going in, although Berbatov would have put it in at the far post had Koscielny (I think) not slid the ball behind.
Half time: Arsenal 2-2 Dimitar Berbatov What an enjoyable half of football that was between two teams who think there is more to life than murderous ambition. Not that some of the Arsenal fans agree; they have just booed their side off the field. The age of entitlement strikes again.
See you in 10 minutes.
Half-time chit-chat "Arsenal fan here, I'm happy for Wenger to stay," says Angus Chisholm. "The Arsenal fans who want Wenger to go (and let's be frank here, many of them – not all, but many – are quite dim, as evinced by the dreadful comments on Arsenal's official facebook posts) suffer from small-picture thinking. Sure, a change might be invigorating, might mix things up a bit, but what is the viable alternative and how is it going to be implemented? How will the culture that Wenger has installed over the course of 16 years at the club cope with a sudden sacking? Are the 'lean times' we're going through now going to seem trivially irrelevant in the future when the club is steady thanks to the foresight with which the club appears to be run now? Just have a look at Liverpool in 2012 to see how things can go quite wrong quite quickly, and there's no shortage of viable clubs willing to occupy that perpetual Champions League qualification spot when Arsenal or whoever show the slightest sign of weakness, and there's every chance a Wenger sacking would lead to a decline, and there are just three places above us but 88 below us. So no. Bad idea."
46 min Arsenal kick off the second half from left to right.
47 min Here's the alternative view, from Zachary Gomperts-Mitchelson. "Until Arsene sold Alex Song, I felt he was probably still the man for the job. When we came out playing some fantastic football in the early season, dominating Liverpool and City at their places I felt it was very sad really cause Diaby's knees were always going to go. Arsene has become the sort of manager who doesn't even seem to understand his own system any more. We are set up for a mobile striker and certain amount of physicality in midfield to let our creative sorts work their magic. Now you see us playing like we are today, the players look completely unmotivated, our system is ridiculously easy to shackle, no one in midfield can beat a man through strength or tricks, there is no movement up front and we don't even get into good wide positions like we used to.
"The players look very poorly drilled at the back, and for all the magnificent things Wenger has done for our club, he's finished. He looks like an absolutely drained shell. For that I blame our board and the arrogance in Wenger that made him think he could run the whole club, do everything in training and still move us forward, an it really was fantastic when he nearly succeeded. The setback in 07/08 when we should have won the league marked the end of our mental strength an since then, though we've had some good moments, including the Fabregas/Nasri team that probably should have won the league themselves we've always flattered to deceive.
"As good as he was Wenger won't take us forward anymore, although I doubt a manager of Klopp or Guardiola's quality would want much to do with us at the moment considering the jobs that might be open to them."
48 min The second half has started like the first, with Fulham hogging the ball. Fulham have never won away to Arsenal; they have quite the opportunity today.
49 min "Is it just me or would anyone else find it incredibly disheartening to have your own team boo you off the pitch?" says Linda Howard. "I never understand; it seems like self-sabotage. That kind of reaction would send me headed straight for the hard liquor."
Quite. On that note, there are unconfirmed reports that sales of alcohol to journalists have gone up 4895235298 per cent since comment sections were introduced.
51 min An outstanding right-wing cross from Walcott just clears the leaping Giroud, who would have had a fairly simple header from eight yards. Moments later Bryan Ruiz, teed up by Dejagah, screws a 20-yard shot wide of the near post.
52 min Berbatov has given Koscielny such a tough time today. Not just for skill and intelligence, but also for speed and strength, elements of his game that are strangely underappreciated.
55 min Arsenal are having a good spell of possession, with most of the threat down the right wing. That's where Walcott plays a crisp one-two before setting off on an angled, driving run infield. He beats three players on the way to the edge of the area, from where he curls a left-footed shot high and wide.
56 min Francis Coquelin is replaced by Aaron Ramsey.
59 min Another chance for Fulham. Berbatov puts Kacaniklic clear down the left. He gets into the area and pulls the ball across the face of goal, and it's cleared desperately before Dejagah can put it into the net.
60 min Sidwell fouls someone 25 yards from goal. He's already been booked but gets away with a final warning from Phil Dowd. Instead Aaron Ramsey is booked. Why? I have no idea why. Hope this helps!
61 min "This idea that a fan, or in this case Arsenal fans, who are often paying a substantial amount of their yearly income for season tickets due to their commitment to their club are banned from expressing dissatisfaction, when the team they are paying through the nose to see play, perform like this team does, is such a revoltingly disconnected bit of journalistic snobbery it could only come from the mouth of someone who views this whole thing from a very American perspective," says Zachary Gomperts-Mitchelson. "Arsenal aren't just a franchise that the boo'ers in the stadium have bought into for entertainment. My family live in Highbury and when we lost our season tickets due to price hikes, as our best players where sold and replaced with inferior replacements and our board members caught multimillion deals for their shares, I damn well felt like booing, I felt more disenfranchised and miserable then entitled."
Sorry. I forgot that two grown adults aren't capable of having different opinions without one of them being revoltingly disconnected.
63 min Walcott's angled shot from the right of the box is deflected wide of the near post by Hangeland. Fulham are struggling to get out of their third, never mind their half.
65 min Ramsey, already booked, might have been given a second yellow card for a cynical tug on Sidwell. He was in the Fulham half but it was deliberate, the kind of football that often brings a yellow card.
66 min "Although Zachary G-M makes some very good points, the thing is Arsenal's woes aren't really down to Wenger: it's down, even more than it ever was, to money, and other people being able to flash it around even more," says Nick Lezard. "That said, if they lose to Fulham today I'll be round with my pitchfork and flaming brand, in spirit if not in actual physical presence."
Wenger is an essentially decent human being trapped in a thoroughly repugnant sport. It's hard not to have a fair bit of sympathy for him.
66 min: PENALTY TO FULHAM Arteta, admiring his own shadow, is robbed on the corner of the box by Bryan Ruiz, who surges into the area and then falls over under Arteta's clumsy challenge from behind.
GOAL! Arsenal 2-3 Fulham (Berbatov 67 pen) What a penalty from Berbatov. This was ludicrously, orgiastically nonchalant. He sauntered towards the ball, looked Mannone up and down and then gently Berbatoved the ball into the left side of the goal with Mannone standing still on the spot. Fulham have come from 2-0 down to lead!
69 min Half chances at both ends. Giroud, 20 yards out, smashes a bouncing ball straight at Schwarzer; then Riise forces a sprawling near-post save from Mannone.
GOAL! Arsenal 3-3 Fulham (Giroud 69) Seven seconds after hitting the post, Olivier Giroud equalises for Arsenal. He dragged a left-footed shot across goal and onto the post, from where it rebounded to Walcott on the right of the box. He stood up a fine cross towards Giroud, six yards out, and he got enough flick and power on the ball to send it beyond the leaping Schwarzer's right hand. That was a very good header.
71 min A rising 20-yard shot from Ruiz is straight at Mannone but hit with enough power that he has to palm it over for a corner.
72 min Walcott has done some extremely good things today. Hashtagjustsayin'.
73 min This is anyone's game. Obviously. It was open at 0-0 in the first half. Now, at 3-3 in the second, it's you-attack-we-attack.
74 min "Say what you like about Arsenal (and plenty of people do), they're not boring," says David White. "The Emirates is expensive bit why does everyone correlate value for money with winning - what about entertainment? Is any other ground better value for money in terms of entertainment?"
Craven Cottage. Every football team should be managed by Martin Jol.
76 min Koscielny makes a desperate and vital sliding challenge to stop Berbatov having a chance of his hat-trick. He was put through by an excellent angled pass from the left, and his shot back across the goal was superbly blocked by Koscielny.
77 min Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replaces Lukas Podolski, who was almost entirely anonymous. Cazorla hasn't been great either. Giroud and Walcott have been Arsenal's best attackers by a distance.
80 min Giroud is denied his hat-trick by a fine save from Schwarzer. He picked the ball up 45 yards from goal, muscled his way to the edge of the D and then larruped a left-footed shot towards the bottom corner. Schwarzer dived to his left to push it behind for a corner with both hands. I thought Giroud was supposed to be crap? He's had a stormer.
82 min Theo Walcott is struggling with some injury or other. Former football Andriy Arshavin is getting ready to replace him.
83 min "Re: David White's comment in the 74th minute," says Robin White. "Yes, St Mary's. Just an awfully more masochistic form of entertainment."
85 min Fulham have their backs to the wall, and moulded into the wall in fact. They can't get out at all. This might help: Arshavin has replaced Walcott. I don't know if he's injured or just shattered; it's been seven months since he started two games in a week. Fulham have almost made a substitution, with Damien Duff replacing Ashkan Dejagah.
87 min "A word for Ruiz today?" says David Fallon. "His control, passing and simple use of the ball has been as if not more essential to Fulham's successes today. Even if he does use his first name on the jersey. Sacrilege."
I've been lost in Berbatov but Ruiz has played beautifully, with the same languorous class of our Bulgarian hero. One outside-of-the-left-foot pass to Riise in the first half was stunning.
89 min Ruiz's chipped left-wing corner is headed just wide of the far post by Hangeland, although the man on the line had it covered.
90 min Giroud misses a fine chance to win the match. His own excellent movement meant that he was unmarked by the penalty spot as he ran backwards to meet Sagna's right-wing cross; he headed the ball back whence it came but got a bit too much on it and it went just wide.
90+2 min There will be four added minutes. An Arsenal corner is half cleared to Arteta, whose stinging volley from 20 yards is blocked by a defender.
90+3 min Baird chests Arshavin's cross behind for a corner. This is Arsenal's last chance. They don't score from it.
PENALTY TO ARSENAL! This looks very harsh. Arshavin's cross hits Riether, who was barely two yards away and actually seemed to be trying to pull his arm out of the way. A pathetic decision. Baird is booked for protesting. Arteta will take the penalty. We're into the fifth of four added minutes.
SCHWARZER SAVES ARTETA'S PENALTY! Jesus. That's the last touch of the game! Arteta sidefooted it all along the ground towards the left of Schwarzer, but it wasn't right in the corner and Schwarzer got down to push it round the post. It wasn't the greatest penalty; nor was it a shocker, though, and it was an excellent save from Schwarzer. It was a shocking decision, though, and it would have been so harsh on Fulham had they lost.
Full time: Arsenal 3-3 Fulham In the grand scheme this game probably doesn't mean that much, but it was a whole load of fun. I'm off to change my name to Dimitar Berbatov. Night!