Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool: Late Penalty Drama Quells Gunners' Flickering Title Hopes

Robin SAnalyst IApril 17, 2011

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 17:  Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger questions the match officials after they awarded Liverpool an equalising penalty kick during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium on April 17, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Arsene Wenger's hopes of upstaging the table-topping Manchester United were dealt a fatal blow when Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt scored a late penalty to level the score on 100 minutes. It was an incredible game with both sides scoring in injury time to share the spoils.

While you can argue all you want as to how Liverpool deserved a point for their solid defensive show, you can't dismiss the fact that Arsenal deserved all three points as they were, by far, the better side.

Arsenal played positive football and created clear-cut chances but as usual failed to score. Like always, Arsenal struggled to break down an organised, stubborn defence. Kenny Dalglish deployed a defence-oriented tactic with two banks of four.

However, when the Gunners did manage to sneak in, Robin van Persie squandered what was the best chance from open play. From a set-piece, Laurent Koscielny also had a chance to put Arsenal in front, but his shot cannoned off the crossbar to the disappointment of the manager and fans.

The game was unusually dramatic beyond anyone's imagination. Arsenal dominated possession in the first half without threatening Liverpool's backline. Theo Walcott was involved in most of the attacking play, but in the final third, he was shockingly awful. His final pass and decision making let the entire team and his manager down.

What's more surprising is the fact that Liverpool's fullbacks were highly inexperienced, so it's hard to figure out why Walcott repeatedly flunked in the final third until he was replaced in the second half.

Liverpool had to deal with some nasty injuries too.

At the start, Walcott was up against Fabio Aurelio but, the injury-prone left back got injured in the opening period of first half thereby forcing Dalglish to throw an inexperienced 17-year-old Jack Robinson into the thick of action up against the fastest winger in world football.

Surprisingly, Robinson played extremely well with Lucas Leiva's adequate assistance.

In the second half, the injuries to Andy Carroll and Jamie Carragher rubbed salt into Liverpool's wounds.

Carragher suffered a nasty head injury when he collided with his teammate John Flanagan at the hour mark. It was a nasty looking injury. He was seemingly unconscious and the eight-minute injury time at the end of the second half just indicates how bad the injury was.

Carragher was gently stretchered off after being given the first aid. Carroll too couldn't continue and was substituted midway through the second half. At that period, the game had a draw written all over it with both sides creating very little.

Liverpool's best chances came through Luiz Suarez, who had an indifferent game. His profligacy didn't help Liverpool when they did get a touch on the ball. As Arsenal controlled the possession, Liverpool struggled to get a sight of the ball for most of the game.

The frustrated Suarez dropped deeper, and his lateral movement did trouble Arsenal's defence. However, the Uruguayan's poor distribution eased the pressure on the Gunners rearguard.

Despite misplacing a couple of simple passes, Suarez was the only player who forced Arsenal's goalkeeper Wojcieh Szczesny, who had very little to do, into making a couple of decent saves.

Late Drama

When it looked like both teams have to be content with a point each, Jay Spearing did what an inexperienced youngster would do under pressure.

Arsenal bombarded Liverpool's defence in the dying minutes to find that crucial goal to keep their title chase alive. The persistence paid off when Spearing tripped Cesc Fabregas in the penalty box. A clear penalty and Van Persie scored from 12-yards out to give Arsenal what seemed like the winning goal.

Van Persie removed his shirt in joy, and the crowd erupted in ecstasy. As you would expect, the Dutchman got booked for this outrageously brutal foul, if removing your shirt while celebrating is that big a crime.

The crowd was highly impatient and frustrated at one point when the usual story of possession without goals hinted at yet another goalless draw. That was the last thing fans wanted to see after witnessing two tedious nil-nil draw in Arsenal's last two home games against Sunderland and Blackburn Rovers respectively.

Much to the delight of the fans, van Persie's goal came as a late relief, but before they could savour that moment, Arsenal's defence got carried away and a reckless mistake gifted Liverpool a free kick just outside the penalty box.

With the clock ticking past the allotted injury time of eight minutes, that was supposed to be the last piece of action. Suarez stepped up, but it was too close to get the ball up over the wall and down into the net.

The wall blocked his kick, and just when you thought it was time for the final whistle, Arsenal's cult-hero Emmanuel Eboue spoiled the party with a needless foul.

Eboue never had to touch the ball in the first place when Suarez's deflected free kick rolled out toward the right flank. He just had to keep Lucas under check, and the best Lucas could have done was finding that extra yard to cross the ball back into Arsenal's goalmouth.

However, that wasn't exactly how the exuberant Eboue went about his business. He shoved Lucas to the turf. Although it was a mild push, you can't blame the player for going down easily because that's expected of any player at that stage of the game, or for that matter at any stage of the game.

Although it can be argued that Lucas conned the referee into giving a late penalty, one can't dismiss the fact that Eboue committed an inane blunder. That was shambolic defending, and you can guarantee that Sagna wouldn't have done that.

The resultant penalty was converted with great composure by Dirk Kuyt, and the referee blew the final whistle just when Liverpool players converged together to celebrate a goal that might well have all but ended Arsenal's glimmering hope of success in the Premier League.

It was as if the referee was waiting for that particular moment for the whole game. As you might expect, after the incredible tragedy, Wenger refused to shake hands with Dalglish. A set of heated words were exchanged between the managers before Wenger rushed toward the referee to confront him.

It was more out of frustration than anything else and understandably so. It was so close, yet so far. That said, it's an unacceptable lack of class from Wenger's part to refuse the handshake just because of his team's inability to see the game through.

With that draw, the lead at the top is reduced to six points, but with only six games left to play, you have to concede the title is out of Arsenal's reach. It must also be noted that Liverpool's chances of making the top four are all but over.

P.S. It's to be seen how Eboue bounces back from this painful disappointment. In the past, he has been at the receiving end of severe criticism from the Arsenal fans.

Though  his resolve and hard work later won over the same fans, this time it's entirely demoralising for the player, and the fans might not be willing to forgive him. It's a costly mistake—costly enough to cost his place in the squad and place in the heart of fans.


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