Arsenal 1 Liverpool 1: Crouch ends the race for Arsenal

Draw means Wenger's side look out of the running for title as Liverpool play out second stalemate in four days
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Liverpool all but dumped Ars-enal out of the title race yesterday and now, in their own backyard, will try to consign the rest of Arsène Wenger's season to the garbage can. The Premier League is out of the window, and on Tuesday the Champions' League could well follow. Ninety minutes to save the year and all that.

The second part of this seven-day trilogy was inevitably going to be the lesser version, and so it proved. The scoreboard might have displayed the same numbers – indeed, this was the third time these teams have played out a 1-1 draw in this campaign – but neither the quality or the intensity stacked up.

True to form, however, Wenger saw a wretched similarity in the "100 per cent conclusive, blatant penalty" the referee – this time Phil Dowd – failed to award. It was midway through the second half when Cesc Fabregas was pulled back by Lucas, and replays once again showed that Wenger's protestations had some merit.

"Déjà vu," barked the Frenchman. "It was the same as the one on Wednesday. And the referee was in as good a position as well."

In fact, Arsenal were of the mind that they had again outplayed the Merseyside team to such an extent that the win should have been a formality. "It was just like the first game," claimed Nicklas Bendtner. "We had chance after chance to score. We can't go three games being so unlucky. Can we?"

Well, yes and no, because, in truth, the fortune was not anywhere near as one-sided as Arsenal insisted. And in some ways, Wenger only had himself to blame. In his programme notes he correctly predicted that Liverpool would rest some of their star men – Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres both appeared as substitutes – but then there was also a "reserve" feel about Wenger's selection. He was later to explain that there were reasons for all his four changes, and any doubts that he cared about this fixture were surely put right by his animated display in the last quarter. "I kicked every ball because I thought there was a real opportunity to win," he said.

Maybe, but Liverpool were certainly the better side in the first half, with Peter Crouch, in particular, looking razor-sharp. At the very least the striker must have earned himself a place on the bench for Tuesday, although he probably wants more. Crouch is yet to sign the new contract Benitez has offered him, and the manner in which he tore into the home defence suggested he fancies playing every week.

It took him just four minutes to force Manuel Almunia into a spectacular save when unleashing a right-footer from 30 yards. Seven minutes later he turned provider, and John Arne Riise should really have made more of a clever through-ball. Then, after Bendtner had fluffed a sitter up the other end, Crouch made him pay by running on to Yossi Benayoun's flick over and firing it between William Gallas's legs and past Almunia. The visitors were good value for their lead.

Arsenal responded positively and ultimately deserved a point, if no more than that. Bendtner's close-range header off a Fabregas free-kick pulled them level in the 53th minute, and thereafter the Gunners were on the front foot. There was Fabregas's appeal,and in the meantime the ever-more confident Bendtner had played in Mathieu Flamini and Emmanuel Adebayor.

As Wenger raged, the minutes ticked by, and there were just seconds left when the ball was worked to Alexander Hleb in yards of space in the six-yard box. His first touch let him down, however, and that was that, both in the game and the Premier League. Despite being five points behind Manchester United – who play Middlesbrough today – Wenger vowed that Arsenal "would keep on fighting". Yet Benitez summed it up more realistically. "Maybe for Arsenal the only option now is the Champions' League," he said. "And that could make it more difficult for us on Tuesday."