The hosts looked to have completed a stunning turnaround when substitute Eddie Nketiah fired past Bernd Leno to give them the lead 18 minutes from time, moments after Bukayo Saka’s penalty had made it 1-1 and relieved the tension in north London.
Saka gifted the opening goal to Andreas Pereira after 57 seconds as Arsenal’s habit of letting in early goals at home returned to haunt them.
Calvin Bassey saw red for Fulham late on for fouling Nketiah, but Palhinha left home fans stunned for a second time when he struck from a corner as Arsenal’s winning start in the Premier League came to an end.
Some were yet to take their seats inside the Emirates when Pereira pounced on a reckless blind ball from Saka to give Fulham the lead.
There seemed to be no danger when Declan Rice laid the ball to his England team-mate wide on the halfway line, but in a startling lapse of concentration Saka played a backwards pass into the path of the onrushing Pereira, who with under a minute on the clock dinked it beyond Aaron Ramsdale to stun the hosts.
It was the third time in 2023 that Arsenal had conceded in the first minute of a home game and, as though familiar with the routine, they responded with appropriate urgency.
First, Kai Havertz spurned a glorious chance to level with a close-range header from Saka’s clever back-post flick, then Gabriel Martinelli danced inside Kenny Tete to make room for a low drive that was gathered by Leno.
Martinelli looked Arsenal’s best hope of a quick fix to their predicament. Raul Jimenez was next to deny the Brazilian when he flew into a point-blank interception as the Brazilian shaped to shoot from six yards.
Fulham may have been surprised by Arsenal’s early gift but they were not content to rest on their good fortune. Jimenez worried Ramsdale with an ambitious scissor kick that dropped a foot wide of the post and Harry Wilson threatened with a wicked driven effort that flew across goal.
It looked increasingly like a second goal for Marco Silva’s side would be required. Martinelli went close again for the hosts after he was slipped in to a channel down the left by Leandro Trossard, this time the fingertips of Leno dropping low to his right squeezed it around the post.
Saka badly miscued a header which spun up and over the bar from six yards.
Then, as the frustration rumbling around the Emirates intensified, a second-half lifeline came.
Martinelli slipped a clever ball in behind for substitute Fabio Vieira and, as he darted inside the box, Tete was tempted into going to ground in what proved a fatal error. Saka exorcised his first-half demons and fired Arsenal level from the spot.
The points are shared at Emirates Stadium. pic.twitter.com/NDYU4zgZhN
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) August 26, 2023
It took under three minutes to complete a whirlwind fightback. Vieira, fresh from his smart run to win the penalty, found himself with space to dash into down the left. He looked up to see the charging figure of his fellow substitute Nketiah, who timed his arrival to perfection to steer the low cross beyond Leno.
Fulham’s hopes seemed to drain away when Bassey was red carded with seven minutes to go, a second booking for hauling down Nketiah near the halfway line, and Arsenal could have been forgiven for thinking the job was done.
But within minutes Fulham had rescued a point. Harrison Reed’s corner was well delivered and there meeting it on the half volley was Palhinha to scoop his foot skilfully around the ball into the bottom corner.
Vieira had a final go at cementing his rapidly growing reputation with a strike deep in added time that Leno tipped over. It was not to be this time for the substitute, nor was it for Arsenal.