Arsène Wenger has refused to give up on Arsenal winning the Premier League title despite their hopes of ousting Manchester United from top spot suffering a dramatic and seemingly devastating blow in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool. Wenger’s team looked set for victory following Robin van Persie’s penalty in the eighth minute of stoppage time, only for the visitors to equalise through a penalty of their own four minutes later. Arsenal are six points behind United with only six fixtures to play.
Wenger was left enraged at the referee, Andre Marriner, for pointing to the spot after Emmanuel Eboué appeared to push Lucas Leiva in the 101st minute of the contest. He denied the full-back had fouled the Brazilian and following Dirk Kuyt’s conversion – which proved to be the last kick of the game – confronted Marriner on the pitch demanding to know why he had gone over the stipulated eight minutes of added time, a lengthy period that largely culminated from the treatment Jamie Carragher had to receive for a second-half head injury which required the defender to leave the pitch on a stretcher and wearing an oxygen mask.
Wenger also became embroiled in a heated exchange with Kenny Dalglish, the Liverpool manager, regarding the awarding of the second penalty. Both men refused to expand on what they had said to each other but reports suggest Dalglish swore at his counterpart.
“We conceded a penalty after 11 minutes and the extra time was only eight minutes, I don’t know where this additional time came from,” said Wenger. “The referee has not explained anything to me but I know it was no penalty. Lucas played in an intelligent way. He stopped his [Eboué] runs, Eboué wanted to go to the ball and he stopped him and referee said nothing. What can you do about it?”
Wenger said last week that the “title would be over” for Arsenal if they failed to beat Liverpool and Tottenham, who they face at White Hart Lane on Wednesday. He refused to endorse that view here despite what has now proved to be Arsenal’s seventh draw in 15 league games and their third draw in a row at home. “This looks like a defeat but we will keep giving everything until the last game of the season and see if it is our year. The hope is always there, to keep hope alive we have to win our next game.”
But that may prove difficult as Wenger admits his players will travel to White Hart Lane in two days’ time in a state of “disappointment” and, he conceded, looking jaded both physically and mentally. Their performance here certainly appeared to be that of a team running out of vigour after a season which, at one stage, appeared as if it could result in a quadruple of trophies but now looks like it will be the sixth in succession in which the club has failed to land any silverware.
The hosts created few chances against a team that was missing its captain, Steven Gerrard, through injury, and had to substitute three more players during the contest due to strains – Carragher, Andy Carroll and Fabío Aurélio, the last of which led to the introduction at left-back of 17-year-old Jack Robinson for only his second appearance for Liverpool’s first-team. Carragher, who accidentally clashed heads with Liverpool’s other teenage full-back Liverpool’s teenage full-back John Flanagan, recovered consciousness soon after being replaced and was well enough to congratulate his team-mates after the final whistle, while Carroll was taken off as a precaution after jarring his knee early on in the second half early on in the second-period. Aurelio, however, has damaged his hamstring and could now miss the rest of the season.
Playing a patched-up side, Playing a patched-up side Arsenal appeared to have secured all three points when Jay Spearing tripped Cesc Fábregas in the area and Van Persie drove in the resulting spot kick past Liverpool’s goalkeeper José Reina for his 19th goal of the season. But Liverpool were to have the last word. “I don’t think there’s any other team that would have shown the attitude and commitment that our team showed today,” said Dalglish. “We lost Fabio [Aurerlio] early on, had to put a 17-year-old boy on, lost the captain [Carragher], lost the centre-forward [Carroll], lost the goal eight minutes into injury time and still didn’t want to accept we weren’t going to get anything from the game. “I can’t speak highly enough of the players.”
Asked about the penalty decisions, the Scot mischievously added: “Well, I thought one was a penalty and one wasn’t. I’ll leave you to decide which one was which.”
This draw keeps Liverpool in the hunt for a Europa League place but has increased the chances of United winning a 19th league title and, therefore, ousting the Merseysiders as England’s most decorated domestic champions. Asked if he felt sad about the potential development, Dalglish said: “I have nothing to feel sad about, as far as I’m concerned Liverpool are still best club in English football, if not world football.”