Longest day ends in acrimony as Arsenal see title hopes fade away
Arsenal 1 Liverpool 1
Monday 18 April 2011
The entire Liverpool team ran to the away section to celebrate Dirk Kuyt's penalty equaliser in the 12th minute of stoppage time, even though the goal effectively hands the Premier League title to their bitter rivals.
Arsenal's longest day ended in huge disappointment yesterday, and in all likelihood gives Manchester United their 19th league crown, which would beat the record of 18 that Sir Alex Ferguson's side currently share with Liverpool.
Ferguson had been at the game but in all probability had left before the final whistle which came after a remarkable amount of stoppage time. However, while the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, later admitted that this draw felt like a defeat, for Ferguson it will have felt like a victory, and a crucial one at that. His team are now six points ahead of Arsenal with six games to go, including a trip to the Emirates in two weeks' time, and the historic title is now within their grasp.
The players in Liverpool's black shirts did not, of course, give a thought to the wider significance of Kuyt's equaliser; they were simply caught up in the maelstrom of emotion that had enveloped the Emirates at the end of what had been, until stoppage time, a relatively tame encounter.
Referee Andre Marriner awarded eight minutes of injury time, mainly resulting from the Liverpool captain Jamie Carragher having to be treated on the pitch for six minutes after a clash of heads with his team-mate John Flanagan. The match had been petering out to a goalless draw when, in the seventh minute of added time, Jay Spearing caught Cesc Fabregas to concede a penalty which Robin van Persie converted by sending Pepe Reina in the Liverpool goal the wrong way.
The atmosphere was energised as Arsenal's faint title hopes had been given a rejuvenating bolt of adrenalin. However, it proved very short-lived.
Arsenal relaxed, while Liverpool's patched-up side pushed themselves for one final effort, and Alex Song was pulled up for a foul on Lucas on the edge of the Arsenal penalty area.
Luis Suarez struck his kick against the wall, and as Lucas and Emmanuel Eboué chased after the rebound, the Arsenal man ran into this opponent's back and referee Marriner pointed to the spot. With the clock approaching the 13th minute of stoppage time, Kuyt fired his shot low past Wojciech Szczesny's dive to clinch a richly deserved point for Liverpool.
Wenger was furious that so much extra time had been allowed, and went on to the pitch to remonstrate with the referee. He may have had a point as the fourth official had indicated there were eight minutes of extra time but in fact 12 were played.
Wenger said: "I feel hard done by at the end because time was over. Extra time should have been eight minutes. And I don't think it was a penalty at all but Lucas played in an intelligent way, he stopped his run in front of Emmanuel Eboué. But we have to take it, and continue to fight."
Arsenal's third successive draw at home in the Premier League raises further doubts about the mental strength of the young side Wenger has assembled. Their self-inflicted collapse in the Carling Cup final against Birmingham City was symptomatic of the team's fragile self-belief, which shows little sign of improving.
So it is likely to be six years without a trophy for them, and it will be another six unless Arsenal, and their new majority shareholder Stan Kroenke, manage to seize one of the opportunities when they come their way. Kroenke knows Arsenal's failings only too well, having been on the club's board for several years, but now the problems are his to solve, and the possibility of money being made available for new players is only more likely after games such as these.
Liverpool lined up in two banks of four, and generally found it fairly easy to keep Arsenal at arm's length. That said, Arsenal were mightily unlucky not to be awarded a penalty in the 17th minute, when Kuyt clearly used his arm to block a goal-bound shot from Theo Walcott, after Laurent Koscielny had put a header against the Liverpool cross bar.
For the remainder of the game, however, Arsenal managed to frustrate their supporters by having plenty of the ball for long periods but doing nothing with it. Walcott was a lively presence on the right, supported by the energetic Eboué, who went close for Arsenal just before half-time with a turn and shot that was blocked.
Some of Arsenal's more senior players ,however, went missing. Samir Nasri was quiet, while Van Persie was guilty of several lapses of concentration. The Dutchman missed Arsenal's best chance of the 90 minutes, with five minutes to go. Nasri put him through on the Liverpool goal, but Van Persie struck his shot too close to Reina and the Liverpool goalkeeper was able to parry the effort away.
Liverpool were on the back foot for much of the game, but could have pinched it long before the dramatic denouement. They squandered a couple of good opportunities, both of which fell to Suarez. The Uruguayan forced Sczcesny into a fine low save, and then in the dying moments he fired into the side netting from a tight angle.
Considering they had a couple of teenagers in the side, lost Carragher in the second half, and were without Fabio Aurelio when the Brazilian pulled up with a muscle injury midway through the first half, this was a deserved point for Liverpool.
Substitutes: Arsenal Arshavin (Walcott, 72), Bendtner (Wilshere, 72), Song (Diaby, 81).
Liverpool Robinson (Aurelio, 21), Kyrgiakos (Carragher, 62), Shelvey (Carroll, 70).
Booked: Arsenal Eboué, Van Persie. Liverpool Skrtel, Flanagan, Lucas, Shelvey.
Man of the match Suarez.
Match rating 6/10.
Possession: Arsenal 58% Liverpool 42%. Attempts on target: Arsenal 6 Liverpool 5. Referee A Marriner (West Midlands).
The league run-in
1. Manchester United (P: 32 Pts: 69)
Tomorrow Newcastle (a) 7.45pm
Saturday Everton (h) 12.45pm
1 May Arsenal (a) 2.05pm
8 May Chelsea (h) 4.10pm
14 May Blackburn (a) 12.45pm
22 May Blackpool (h) 4pm
2. Arsenal (P: 32 Pts: 63)
Wednesday Tottenham (a) 7.45pm
Sunday Bolton (a) 4pm
1 May Man Utd (h) 2.05pm
8 May Stoke (a) 2.05pm
15 May Aston Villa (h) 4pm
22 May Fulham (a) 4pm
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