Sunday, April 17, 2011
Arsenal 1 - 1 Liverpool
Arsenal's title hopes were left hanging by a thread after they conceded a late penalty in an extraordinary finish against Liverpool at the Emirates. The Gunners thought they had earned a vital win when Robin van Persie slotted in a 98th minute penalty after Jay Spearing brought down Cesc Fabregas. But four minutes later Emmanuel Eboue fouled Lucas Leiva to allow Dirk Kuyt to grab a Reds equaliser from the spot. The Gunners are now six points behind Manchester United with six games left. Kuyt converted his penalty in the 102nd minute, with the extended amount of added time being down to an injury to Liverpool centre-back Jamie Carragher during the second half. And the dramatic equaliser from the Reds is a bodyblow to an Arsenal side who briefly thought they had revived their chances of catching Premier League leaders Manchester United. The latest setback for the Gunners is likely to be too much for them to recover from, and it adds to the recent agonies of being beaten in the Carling Cup final and suffering a Champions League exit at the hands of Barcelona. The prospect of the Gunners ending a sixth season without any silverware is looming large, with Wenger's strategy of relying on talent groomed through the club rather than bringing in expensive reinforcements from the transfer market set to be called into question once again. Up until Van Persie's penalty, it was also a game in which the home side had only provided more weight to criticism that they are pretty without being penetrative, as they had been repelled by an under-strength but resilient Liverpool outfit. There had been a period of silence ahead of the kick-off as the two clubs paid their respects to Arsenal director Danny Fiszman after his death earlier in the week, as well marking the 15 April anniversary of the death of 96 Liverpool fans in the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989. When play did get under way, Arsenal's need for a win to maintain their title challenge put the emphasis on them to attack, while Liverpool tried to soak up the pressure and catch their rivals on the counter-attack. Liverpool's tactics were almost ruined as early as the fourth minute when Abou Diaby beat Reds striker Andy Carroll to a Samir Nasri free-kick but glanced his header narrowly wide. Carroll's impact was not going to be in defence though, as he had the task of testing how the Gunners back-line would deal with the kind of physical threat the home side have previously struggled against. And, after Arsenal centre-back Johan Djourou escaped giving away a penalty for a foul on Spearing, Carroll got his head to a number of balls, only to fail to test Gunners keeper Wojciech Szczesny. His aerial prowess did serve as a warning for the home side, especially considering the England international had already scored at the Emirates this season with a header from a diagonal free-kick when his former club Newcastle won 1-0. To Arsenal's credit they managed to limit his threat but, despite dominating possession, they failed to find a way through a Liverpool rearguard which had seen 17-year-old Jack Robinson replace the injured Fabio Aurelio after 21 minutes. Robinson became Liverpool's youngest ever player when he came on against Hull City in the final game of 2009-10 season aged 16 years and 250 days and he joined 18-year-old John Flanagan in the Reds defence. For all of Arsenal's passing and probing they almost went ahead from set piece, when a Van Persie corner was headed against the crossbar by Laurent Koscielny. Wenger's side had a shout for a penalty when Theo Walcott was quickest to the loose ball and claimed his follow-up shot struck the arm of Kuyt, although referee Andre Marriner disagreed. Arsenal's intricacy was being repelled by Liverpool's resilience, with Martin Skrtel having to block an angled shot by overlapping Gunners right-back Eboue on the stroke of half-time. Carragher's head injury after a clash with team-mate Flanagan brought a halt to proceedings before Luis Suarez nearly punished the home side for their lack of cutting edge. The Uruguayan has earned plenty of plaudits since his arrival in January and, even though he had endured a frustrating time, he sent a strike just wide after the Gunners defence backed off. Arsenal responded with Van Persie chipping a shot over the on-rushing Reina but too high, then heading wide at the near post and finally having a shot saved when one-on-one with the Reds keeper. The Dutch forward thought he had atoned for his misses when he confidently slotted in, only for Eboue's mistake at the other end to prove costly. Eboue clattered into the back of Leiva as both players attempted to retrieve the loose ball after a Suarez free-kick hit the wall. Kuyt kept his cool in a cauldron of noise to slot in the equaliser with the last kick of the match as the Reds, who have 18 top-flight titles along with Manchester United, ironically helped their rivals to move ahead of them.