Arsène Wenger admitted that the pounding in his temples was more than just a European hangover. The Arsenal manager, who ascribed a blunt performance to the rigours of the Champions League win over Borussia Dortmund last Wednesday, suggested that his key offensive personnel were on the brink of injury breakdowns.
"Yes, I am worried," Wenger said. "We have a few players on the edge like [Robin] van Persie, of course, and [Theo] Walcott, who had a hamstring alert and [Aaron] Ramsey as well. We'll see how they respond to 24 hours' rest. Walcott's hamstring was picked up during the game but he should be OK. At half-time they said he's all right."
The trio have chequered injury histories but the concern feels most acute with Van Persie, whose form has been inspirational. He was denied his customary appearance on the score-sheet by Chris Baird's goal-line clearance in the 60th minute. "The defenders play behind the goalkeepers against us," Wenger noted drily, although Fulham's point was built on more than defensive resilience.
Wenger's ready acceptance that Van Persie was "of course" at the top of the list of players "in the red", according to performance data, betrayed the delicacy of the striker's situation. No one at Arsenal can countenance life without him and not only because his deputy is Marouane Chamakh. Van Persie has averaged 16 Premier League starts per season. Saturday's was his 12th this time out.
Arsenal's strength in depth will be tested by Manchester City, in the Carling Cup quarter-final at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday, and the fear is that it could be exposed. Wenger said that, against City's intimidating second string, he would "change my philosophy a little bit", hinting at the selection of one or two regulars. But the imperative for him is to handle his stars with care.
"We have to consider the injuries we have," Wenger said. "We have red alerts on a few players. It will be easier for you to pick the Man City team because you can look in the stand [against Liverpool] and on the bench and you will see who plays on Tuesday."
Samir Nasri will be the occasion's pantomime villain. The City midfielder returns to Arsenal for the first time since his transfer, the motivation for which was spelt out by Stan Kroenke. The club's majority shareholder oversaw two major summer departures, with Cesc Fábregas's homecoming to Barcelona being followed by Nasri's move.
"I think you know that one of the players who departed had nothing to do with money," Kroenke said in an interview last month. "There was a specific personal circumstance that happened. Then, you could say that the other player departed for money."
"You want to respect players who have played for us," Wenger said, on the subject of Nasri's reception. "And that's what we expect. It's always more important to support our team than to be negative with the players from Man City."
Fulham were compact and threatening and Bobby Zamora pressed his claim to be England's finest back-to-goal No9. His manager, Martin Jol, however, wants more. Zamora has scored only three league goals this season.
"Steve Bruce was telling me how much he missed Darren Bent at Sunderland," Jol said. "Bobby is a different type. Darren Bent will be anonymous but score 20 goals. Not like Bobby or Andy Johnson. I hope he can be a bit more productive. You have to score more goals."
Fulham matched Arsenal for long spells and, on this evidence, they will have no fears at the wrong end of the table. Arsenal needed to show character and, according to Wojciech Szczesny, their ability to grind out ugly results.
The maverick Poland goalkeeper also raised a less than beautiful prospect before the Euro 2012 group phase draw on Friday. "I'm going to grow long hair if we draw England, like the Poland goalkeeper who played against England in 1973," he said, with reference to Jan Tomaszewski. "You should all remember him. I might need a wig, though, because there won't be enough time to grow it."