Somehow this managed to constitute two points dropped and a point gained all in the same 90 minutes. Arsenal created enough chances to win, but found such obdurate and willing opponents in Fulham that the north Londoners were on the verge of losing in a manner they could hardly believe.

Thomas Vermaelen was particularly dumbstruck. It had been his boot that had inadvertently given Fulham a surprising lead with a hash of an own goal. However, the Belgian defender's determination came to his team's rescue when he burst upfield to equalise eight minutes from full time.

Fulham can take considerable heart from the manner in which they halted Arsenal's recent winning streak. Top marks for organisation, resourcefulness and for picking their moments to counterattack and ensure that this was not an easy home ride. Even in the tense finale, as Arsenal flooded forward in search of a winner and Fulham looked to have run out of steam, Martin Jol's team maintained their resilience to guard their point. It made for a compelling encounter that could have gone any which way until the end.

Fulham retreated with a big sense of satisfaction. "[Arsenal] have been almost unbeatable, but I said to the boys before the game that I thought we could do something today," Jol said. "It's a pleasing point for us."

It would be easy for Arsenal to blame fatigue after their European exploits in the week. Wenger pointedly said that tiredness was an explanation rather than an excuse: "We had not recovered completely from the Champions League game. It happens sometimes. We want to be in the Champions League, so you cannot cry. The challenge is to win when you are tired."

Tired they were, though. Aaron Ramsey's touch was off beam and Robin van Persie was more peripheral than he has been in ages – although there were still a couple of moments for Jol to fear the worst when his compatriot was on the ball. Andrey Arshavin had been given a rare start in place of Gervinho and, although he had no reason to feel weary, his display was fitful. But even if their passing was not at its crispest, Arsenal showed no lack of desire. Evidence? Theo Walcott even did an impersonation of the formidable Gennaro Gattuso as he hunted down and dispossessed Clint Dempsey with a firm tackle.

Ramsey had the most of Arsenal's early chances, taking aim three times in the opening 25 minutes. The Fulham goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer, tipped over the first, and the others went astray.

Fulham were able to build sufficiently to make inroads themselves, with three good first-half opportunities. Bobby Zamora left Vermaelen behind with a smart turn, only to lift his shot over the bar. Then the excellent Moussa Dembélé saw one shot deflected by Vermaelen and another palmed away at the near post by Wojciech Szczesny.

Fulham were entitled to feel pleased with their efforts, and they carried on defending stoutly after the break. The former Arsenal player Philippe Senderos had, according to Jol, injured his groin in training on the eve of the match but was "brave" to play alongside Brede Hangeland. The defenders used all their defensive charms to block and frustrate.

Even when three of the back four were taken out the game by a jink from Van Persie, who then unleashed a fizzing shot that had Schwarzer well beaten, Chris Baird was stationed on the line to get himself in the way. It might have been by hook or crook, but it was effective.

Wouldn't you just know it. While Fulham were busy defending with as much resourcefulness as they could muster, Vermaelen got hold of a Fulham half-chance, after Riise had chested down Danny Murphy's excellent pass, without really getting it under control, and swept the ball past Szczesny into his own net.

"We would have lost this game early in the season," Wenger said, as he paid credit to the character of his team and the names on the team-sheet in particular. Vermaelen's moment of catharsis came when Walcott produced a tantalising cross, and for once the Fulham rearguard appeared to lose concentration as the centre-half appeared, with nobody tracking his run, to knock a downward header past Schwarzer.

Arsenal were by now emboldened by three attacking substitutes – Marouane Chamakh, Abou Diaby and Gervinho – but could not summon a winner.