Ljungberg snatches late equaliser to save Arsenal

Arsenal 1 - Manchester City 1
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The Independent Football

Who is cracking now? Little more than 24 hours after Arsène Wenger warned Chelsea of the psychological pressure they will face as leaders of the Premiership, a fault-line again emerged through his own side which severely damaged their hopes of retaining the title. It also allowed the champions-elect from across London to stretch that lead to a daunting seven points.

Indeed, Arsenal were indebted to a late, mildly controversial goal from Freddie Ljungberg, who headed in with 15 minutes to go. However the ball had reached him after sailing over Patrick Vieira who was clearly offside, it denied Manchester City ­ inspired by the brilliant attacking verve of Shaun Wright-Phillips ­ a famous victory. In their previous 11 League encounters with Arsenal, City have not garnered a single point and had to turn to the mid-1970s for their last win.

Ljungberg's goal allowed the champions to preserve a 31-match unbeaten run of league games at Highbury. That stretches back to May 2003, when they lost to Leeds United, in a match that ended their hopes of winning the title. There will be some succour, which Wenger nodded at, in the knowledge that an eight-point lead was blown that year, even if it was blown by Arsenal. Nevertheless, and although nothing is decided in January, Wenger knows it looks ominous right now even if his players, drawn from a depleted squad, showed admirable resilience in an exhilarating match. Five points to make up with 17 games to go, Wenger had said, was not a lot. Seven with 16 to go appears much more substantial.

"At the moment they don't look like doing that," Wenger said of the likelihood of Chelsea dropping sufficient points. "But you never know." He added: "I think at the moment to give up and say they have won the title would be criminal. It would be disastrous. In football things change quickly but only if you don't give up."

The irony, of course, for Arsenal is that City were driven by Wright-Phillips, the adopted son of Highbury legend Ian Wright and a player so clearly coveted by Wenger. Wright-Phillips responded with an exceptional goal on the half-hour after Robbie Fowler had challenged Vieira and the ball ran to him. From 25 yards, he unerringly lashed his shot, right-footed, beyond Manuel Almunia. It was unstoppable. And so, for much of an absorbing match, was he.

City had drawn encouragement from the start. Inside a minute and Fowler's header was clutched by Almunia, while Arsenal interspersed incisive passing with casual dalliance. It was alarming and difficult not to link to the callowness of their defence which lined up with players aged 19, 20, 23 and 24.

Philippe Senderos, in particular, began hesitantly on what was his Premiership debut. "We were insecure," Wenger admitted. City exploited it, with Fowler almost adding a second from Wright-Phillips's astute pass, but were also vulnerable. The partnership of Henry and Robin van Persie began to fashion chances and from one the Dutchman should have done better than sidefoot weakly at David James.

The goalkeeper, on his 500th league appearance, also saved comfortably from Justin Hoyte, while Henry's attempt at the spectacular, volleying Cesc Fabregas's lob, drifted wide.

Wenger admitted that harsh words were spoken. "We then played very well," he said. The pressure was relentless, building from a Cole header beaten out by James, a Robert Pires half-volley tipped over to a Van Persie free-kick which shuddered the crossbar. That immediately followed the equalising goal which was engineered by Henry's alertness. He scampered after the ball and hooked it over his shoulder. It caught out the City defenders and Ljungberg stooped to head in.