This was a tussle so dizzyingly unpredictable, so helter skelter, so dramatically charged, it was hard to assess whether anybody's glass was half empty, half full, or just needed to be poured over one's head in an attempt to cool down.

Come the final whistle, Mikel Arteta lay flabbergasted on the turf. Fulham's players huddled around their goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. Arsène Wenger looked bleak. Martin Jol thundered towards the referee, Phil Dowd, with a piquant word or two. That Arsenal had at one stage been 2-0 up, were pegged back to 3-2, then level at 3-3, and with the final twist awarded a stoppage-time penalty that was saved ... it was bedlam.

"I have so many mixed feelings," said Jol, encapsulating the overall condition of everyone within the Emirates Stadium. One of them, rightly, was pride in the way that his team had shown the combination of guts and guile. Fulham's creative top, with Dimitar Berbatov gliding into spaces and the outstanding Bryan Ruiz pulling strings with charisma, was at times irresistible. Certainly for Arsenal's shaky back line.

" We were very brave," added Jol. "In the end they had probably more problems with Ruiz than we had with Santi Cazorla."

Fulham needed that audacity to come back into the game after Arsenal threatened to take control. For the second time in a week, Wenger's team gave themselves an encouraging platform. In the 11th minute Theo Walcott drilled in a corner, and Olivier Giroud bulldozed through unopposed to thump the ball goalwards. Although Schwarzer got a hand to it, there was too much power on the Frenchman's header.

Arsenal extended their lead when the visitors were down to 10 men, after Kieran Richardson pulled up with a damaged hamstring. In the time it took for the substitute to be readied, Mikel Arteta capitalised on Fulham's disorganisation at the back, pouncing on a loose ball in the danger zone. The Spaniard deftly tapped the ball across goal for Lukas Podolksi to jab in the second.

But Arsenal being masters at turning a comfortable situation into an anxiety attack, it did not take long for Fulham to grasp a lifeline. Laurent Koscielny overcomplicated matters and needlessly handed Ruiz the initiative. The Costa Rican's lofted corner exposed Arsenal's own problems with marking, and Berbatov, stationed right in the middle of goal, only needed to take a gentle amble back to find the space to glance past Vito Mannone. Fulham equalised with a neat and imaginative passing move. Steve Sidwell and Sascha Riether combined to release Berbatov, whose delicate cutback was met by substitute Alex Kacaniklic. The young Swede steered in a downward header from 12 yards. It was well placed, if not particularly powerful, but Mannone cursed as he could not get a strong enough hand to repel a deserved equaliser.

It might have got even worse for Arsenal – Fulham almost snatched a third before half-time. Ashkan Dejagah tried a showy backheel with the goal at his mercy. "Defensively it was not a historical performance," said Wenger. Hysterical, more like.

A voice in the crowd after half-time summed up Arsenal's woes. "Can we have the ball please?" someone yelled plaintively? Basics such as possession, pressing, penetration were conspicuous by their absence.

Fulham needed only to keep playing with purpose to make inroads. The smell of blood was thick in the air. Arsenal looked headed for a calamity when the alert Ruiz pickpocketed Arteta, whose attempted recovery was a hopeless cause. Fulham penalty. Berbatov strolled towards the ball and stroked casually past Mannone as if he was not there.

Walcott did as much as anyone to try to lift Arsenal back up off the floor. He twice went close, and when Giroud drove against a post, Walcott sped to fetch the rebound and picked out the big man. Again Giroud was unstoppable with his head. In just over a month he has plundered six goals in eight starts for club and country.

Back came Fulham. Berbatov was halted by a fine double tackle from Koscielny. Giroud then demonstrated his force on the ground with a superb spin and run followed by a walloped shot that Schwarzer did well to handle.

Deep into stoppage time, substitute Andrey Arshavin whacked a cross at Riether, and although he was close enough, and the ball came quickly enough to suggest ball to hand was unavoidable, the referee signalled for a penalty.

There was some discussion about who would take it. Cazorla expressed an interest, but Arteta had seniority. He struck his spot-kick low and Schwarzer plunged to his left to tip the ball away. Emotions flowed in every direction.

"You cannot blame Arteta," said Wenger.

It was perfectly reasonable of Jol to dispute the penalty, but quirky, to say the least, to suggest that Arshavin deliberately took aim at his opponents hand in search of the decision. "I think he did it on purpose," the Dutchman said. "There was no way to cross it, there was not a situation to have a shot. Sometimes the referee would fall into it. The referee was pleased as well not to see it go in. In hindsight everything is fine. I joked about it."

Arsenal, though, couldn't see the funny side.