After a game which effectively finished off his season Arsène Wenger insisted last night that a "dodgy decision" – the 85th minute penalty which levelled this tie at 2-2 – had done for his players against a Liverpool side they had deserved to beat over the course of two games.
"The big decisions went against us and with three minutes to go we [had] qualified," Wenger said. "Over the two games, we had many more chances than Liverpool." The tangle of arms between Kolo Touré and Ryan Babel was hardly a clear-cut penalty, though probably justified, and Alexander Hleb's remarkably similar exchange with Dirk Kuyt in the first leg was at least as deserving. The contrasting decisions left Wenger and his side deeply aggrieved. The dressing-room, Wenger said, was in a state of shock.
"We have to live with that," he said. "For seven or eight weeks, in football [we have had] to swallow what is not swallowable. It is like that and we have to live with that at the moment."
Liverpool's win, which sets up their third Champions League semi-final against Chelsea, was also a result of Arsenal's defensive naivety, Wenger said, having watched errors from Philippe Senderos contribute to Sami Hyypia's opener and the Fernando Torres strike which put Liverpool 2-1 up. "We were too naive. We lacked a bit of maturity defensively," Wenger said.
On a night when Theo Walcott's dazzling run the length of the Anfield pitch, past five Liverpool players, showed the future talent at his disposal, Wenger dwelt briefly on his side's "potential" but the fact that Arsenal made such strong running, comfortably overcoming Milan to make it here, but have still come up short is the bitterest blow. "We will try to finish strongly," said Wenger, whose side must now return to Old Trafford, scene of their FA Cup humiliation. "We have a sense of injustice so that makes it doubly difficult. If you lose against a team you feel is better than you, OK, but that's not the impression we got over the two games."
Rafael Benitez, who said he had not viewed the penalty incident, admitted that Liverpool – again reshaped to partner Fernando Torres with Peter Crouch – came up short. "We knew Peter had scored a hat-trick against Arsenal here [last March] so I was trying to use the strengths of our team, the pace of Torres, the threat of Kuyt and Gerrard," he said. As for Gerrard, the Liverpool captain described his performance last night as his "worst game in a Liverpool shirt", despite his confidently converted late penalty.
The night was a source of obvious delight to co-owner George Gillett who sat alongside Tom Hicks Jnr and later congratulated the players in the dressing-room. Hicks snr watched the match on a TV in his executive box at a Texas Rangers match.Reuse content