Scroll to Photostream above left for match photos, click on the statistics tab for match stats; manager reaction below.
Arsenal moved back up to third place in the Barclays Premier League table after edging a 1-0 victory against Fulham at Craven Cottage in which both sides were reduced to 10 men.
Fulham could count themselves unfortunate not to have taken at least a point having battled gamely following the early sending off of midfielder Steve Sidwell – just back from a three-match suspension – for a late sliding tackle on Mikel Arteta.
Arsenal, though, struggled to make the most of their numerical advantage after going ahead just before half-time through Per Mertesacker’s close-range header.
Referee Andre Marriner then brandished the red card again after 90 minutes when he sent off Olivier Giroud for jumping into a challenge on Stanislav Manolev.
Arsenal, though, saw out stoppage-time to move ahead of Chelsea, who play at Liverpool on Sunday, and five clear of Tottenham, ahead of their Sunday encounter with Manchester City at White Hart Lane. Bboth London rivals have two matches in hand over the Gunners.
Visiting manager Arsene Wenger had decided to rest England midfielder Jack Wilshere, with Czech playmaker Tomas Rosicky coming into the side, as did Nacho Monreal, who had been on the bench for the midweek goalless draw against Everton, while Wojciech Szczesny continued in goal as Lukasz Fabianski is still injured.
Fulham, well beaten 3-0 here by west London rivals Chelsea in midweek, started brightly, and Arteta had to cut out a dangerous cross from Urby Emanuelson. At the other end, Giroud played in Theo Walcott, who finished well past Mark Schwarzer, but the offside flag was already up.
Martin Jol’s side were reduced to 10 men after 12 minutes when Sidwell went in late on Arteta, catching the midfielder on his ankle which resulted in a straight red card.
Former Arsenal trainee Sidwell had just returned from a three-match suspension for a similar late challenge on QPR’s Armand Traore and could now see his suspension increased for poor discipline.
The home fans roared their team on against the odds and Dimitar Berbatov forced a good stop from Szczesny after breaking down the right and into the Arsenal penalty area.
Slowly, the visitors built up a spell of pressure. Giroud was unfortunate after 35 minutes when he spun his marker on the edge of the Fulham box before driving a low shot across the face of goal, which beat Schwarzer, but hit the outside of his left-hand post.
Szczesny, though, was called into action again when Emanuelson robbed Monreal and drilled in a low shot, which the Pole got down well to push behind.
Arsenal made their breakthrough three minutes before the break after Eyong Enoh fouled Aaron Ramsey 35 yards out on the right. Walcott floated the ball into the area, where Laurent Koscielny headed it back across the face of goal and Mertesacker arrived unmarked to nod in from a yard out.
To their credit, Fulham continued to press Arsenal rather than just sit back. However, Berbatov was offered little support with Bryan Ruiz forced into a deeper role. Szczesny had to be alert to palm over a cross from Manolev which looked to be dipping in, before Koscielny headed away as Berbatov arrived at the far post from the resulting corner.
Fulham had the ball in the net when Manolev tapped home after Szczesny spilled a 20-yard free-kick from Kieran Richardson but his effort was ruled out for offside.
Arsenal remained dangerous on the break, with Santi Cazorla’s angled drive blocked after intelligent build-up play by Monreal and then Wilshere.
The Gunners were struggling to get possession of the ball and finished the match with 10 men after Giroud was shown a red card after catching into Manolev with a raised boot.
Ramsey skewed a shot wide after a quick break in stoppage time but Arsenal had just about done enough to give their Champions League hopes a major boost.
Fulham manager Martin Jol: "Arsenal had a shot wide in the final seconds but I can’t remember a lot of other chances. With the possibilities that we had, especially in the first half, on the break, we had a few perfect points in that scenario [to score].
“If you saw us in the last 10 minutes we substituted people and tried to get something out of the game and I think we deserved to get something out of it.
“We want to pick up a few results and get near to 50 points. Of course it’s a heavy schedule and after today’s result it will probably be difficult to get these points.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: “It was tight at the end because we couldn't score the second goal. I feel that we became cautious in the second half. Our first half was quite good. We were in control and played well with 11 against 11. Up to half-time we were alright with 11 against 10. In the second half, I felt [we wanted] to protect the lead and not to make a mistake. The final 10 minutes were really nervy because they started to play direct.
“You are a bit under pressure when you play 11 against 10 because you think that with every foul you risk a second yellow card so they do not go in the challenges. The crowd is behind their team. it becomes a different problem. In the end, we have a fantastic spirit and that got us through.”
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|12 May 2013||v Liverpool (H)|
|27 Apr 2013||v Everton (A)|
|04 May 2013||v Reading (H)|