Another Lost Season: Liverpool and 4 Other Games That Cost Arsenal the Title

Sean PFeatured ColumnistMay 5, 2011

Another Lost Season: Liverpool and 4 Other Games That Cost Arsenal the Title

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    First, make no mistake, Arsenal’s win Sunday over United was fantastic.  Victories this season at home over Chelsea, Barca, and now United showed the best of the Gunners; a young team finding its footing, no longer afraid to go toe-to-toe with the resident power-players.  Nevertheless, Arsenal’s fate appears to be sealed–the EPL title is out of reach.  And with that, Wenger’s squad will extend the trophy-less streak to six years.

    Still, as Al Pacino famously said, football is a game of inches.  This could (some said should) have been Arsenal’s title if things had gone a little differently.  In all likelihood, Arsenal will end up behind Manchester by only a few points.  So if, as it seems, Arsenal ends up losing the title, it is worth highlighting five games where Arsenal’s failures and the team’s inability to clinch key points came back to haunt them.

Liverpool at Home, April

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    This game is fresh in the minds of Gooners everywhere. It's another game where Arsenal couldn’t bring the necessary performance.  And even when they did in the fleeting injury time minutes, it wasn’t enough.

    Coming off a much-needed win over Blackpool after three straight draws, Arsenal hosted Liverpool in a must-win game.  From the beginning, Liverpool set up defensively, despite starting both Carroll and Suarez.  They, like many other teams who now come to the Emirates, sat back and hoped to strike Arsenal on the counter.

    For the most part, this strategy was handled well by the Gunners.  Suarez had a few opportunities in the game, but in general, it was a rather ineffectual offensive performance from Liverpool.  However, despite playing well, Arsenal again failed to make that final decisive move–and so took a 0-0 scoreline into eight minutes of injury time.

    Although Arsenal surged forward, it appeared the game would end without a result.  However, in the 97th minute, Fabregas drew a penalty which RVP converted.  This appeared to clinch a hard fought game against a tenacious, yet injury-hampered team. 

    Though, as we know, Arsenal is still Arsenal.  And when in the 99th minute Song gave away a needless free kick just outside the box, Gooners everywhere held their breath.  A shot by Suarez into the wall, however, seemed to end the match–but that was until Eboue bundled over a sneaky Lucas inside the box.

    A 101st minute penalty–and two points dropped during the critical end of season run-in.  It set off a week in which Arsenal drew with Spurs despite being up 3-1 and then lost away to Bolton in the final minutes, effectively ending their title hopes.

    It was a heartbreaking result, but not surprising given the previous signs that Arsenal would fall short this campaign.

Sunderland Away, September

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    An early test for the Gunners, Sunderland away previewed some of the faults that have plagued throughout the campaign: key injuries, lack of decisiveness in front of goal and an inability to close out games.

    The game started out promisingly enough (as they often seem to).  When Anton (I wish I was Rio) Ferdinand hesitated in his clearance, an on-rushing Fabregas stuck out a boot, causing the ball to ricochet over a helpless keeper from 40 odd yards out.  It was, no doubt, a freak goal.  Arsenal, however, had been playing well and probably deserved a to be ahead. 

    This, though, was the beginning of the end.  Either during the goal or shortly after, Fabregas hurt his hamstring–forcing an early substitution (and an extended spell on the sidelines).  As is often the case without Cesc, Arsenal’s potent attack fell apart.  Without the captain manning the middle, the team looked out of sink.  An early dominant performance dissipated allowing Sunderland to regain confidence and establish momentum.  For the latter part of the first half and early into the second, Sunderland looked like the better team.  Still, Arsenal held onto a one goal advantage and when Nasri was pulled down in the box, it looked as though the Gunners had weathered the storm. 

    Although Rosicky hadn’t scored in over a year, he stepped up to the spot as both Nasri and Chamakh declined the chance.  With only 20 minutes to go, a 2-0 lead would likely have earned Arsenal three points.  But it was not to be.  Rosicky skied his penalty over the crossbar and the Gunners were forced to protect a slim lead.

    Facing a frantic Sunderland attack, Arsenal held strong into injury time.  Yet in the dying seconds of injury time (past the allotted four minutes), Sunderland had one more cross into the box which was met by Clichy.  When trying to clear, Clichy kicked the ball into Koscielny–which dropped conveniently at the feet of Darren Bent, who poked one home from six yards out.  With that, Arsenal’s day ended with a 1-1 draw. It was clearly a missed opportunity and two points dropped.

Sunderland at Home, March

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    Another theme of Arsenal’s frustrating season has been a stroke of bad luck.  Whether it be the Wojo/Koscienly mix up at Wembley (99/100 times he doesn’t fumble that ball), goals coming after the apparent end of injury time or missed referring decisions, the Gunners seem to have gotten the short end of the stick.  As the saying goes, you make your own luck.  There is truth to this, but there is no denying Arsenal has been extremely unfortunate in a few moments–key moments that hampered their title push.

    Coming off the devastating Carling Cup final, Arsenal needed a convincing Premier League win to right the ship.  Sunderland at home, however, did not provide the desired relief.

    The game ended in a 0-0 draw and set off a run of draws in the tail-end of the season, effectively kneecapping the team’s title chances.  This time, though, Arsenal fans and players alike felt hard done by.

    Taking a 0-0 scoreline into the second half, nerves in the Emirates were stretched thin.  The little Russian, though, appeared–twice–to answer the prayers of the Gunner faithful.

    First, Arshavin was sent free on goal with a long through ball.  Slightly ahead of his defender, Andrei rushed into the penalty box.  As he shot, he was shoved in the back.  Though he managed to stay on his feet long enough to fire wide, replays showed he was put off and was falling mid-shot.  A clear cut penalty–and a costly refereeing mistake.

    Second, only a few minutes later, Arshavin darted across the middle of field and met a slide rule pass, which sent him one on one with the keeper.  Cooling rounding the goalie, Arshavin fired home.  The linesman, however, flagged Andrei for offside, negating a potential winner.  Again, replays showed the referees were wrong–and Arsenal lost out to human error.

    Arsenal continued to pile on the pressure, but in the end, it wasn’t enough.  Two points dropped.  And unlike Sunderland away, Arsenal deserved a victory.  To get only two of potential six points from Sunderland over a season is unacceptable (but probably made Steve Bruce’s year, as he secured another United title).

Tottenham at Home, November

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    Given recent events, many will say Arsenal’s failure to hold off Tottenham away was more damaging to their title aspirations.  This is not accurate.  Although Arsenal surrendered a 3-1 lead, a 3-3 draw with Tottenham draw at White Lane is a reasonable result.  Far more costly to the Gunner season was the team’s loss to the Spurs in November.

    Up 2-0 after the first half, due to a moment of sheer Nasri brilliance and a Chamakh tap-in, Arsenal should have cruised to three points.  However, as seems to happen too often, Arsenal gave away a cheap counter-attack goal early into the second half.  When Clichy failed to deal with a long ball and Denilson forgot he is supposed to run during soccer games, Bale tapped one in to bring Spurs within one.  Given Arsenal’s propensity for letting leads slip in recent years, tension was palpable throughout the Emirates faithful.

    And, not to disappoint, their fears were warranted.  When Fabregas inexplicably raised his arm in the box, Tottenham were awarded a spot kick, which Van Der Vaart coolly converted.

    Despite letting the lead slip, Arsenal had a great chance to move ahead once more when Koscielny failed to convert an open-header following a beautiful Van Persie cross.  So, when Kaboul nodded home a winner with only a few minutes to go–and a petulant Wenger threw his water bottle–Arsenal’s collapse was complete. 

    This loss hurt on a number levels, especially considering the intense hatred all we feel for Spurs players and fans.  But more importantly, it was a scene that reappeared as the campaign played out.  An Arsenal team unable to finish off opponents when ahead, unwilling to turn the screws to the opponent.  Nothing was more evident of this shortcoming than…

Newcastle Away, February

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    I can’t say much on this game that hasn’t already been said. 

    Phil Dowd clearly played a significant role in the outcome of this match.  Firstly, there's ignoring a couple harsh Joey Barton tackles before sending off Diaby early into the second half.  There's awarding two soft penalties, the second of which was ridiculous, as Rosicky jumped for a header in the box.  Also, Dowd’s choice to only yellow Nolan for trying the sleeper hold on Wojo, and then penalizing Wojo for getting choked out.

    Still, despite all these Dowdisms (my new phrase for his comical mistakes), Arsenal still blew a 4-0 half time lead.  Moreover, they blew a 4-0 lead with only 25 minutes to play.  No Premier League team has ever failed to win a game where they led by four goals.  So, if nothing else, Arsenal at least ended their trophy-less streak for unwanted EPL records.

    Plain and simple, this wastwo points dropped.  It was embarrassing to watch, especially if you like to torture yourself like me and re-watch Arsenal losses.  If the Gunners lose the title by two points, everyone can (and should) point to the Newcastle draw as defining.  Under no circumstances should a team crumble in this manner.  At least it will provide an example of what NOT to do for years to come.  And, if stories are correct, Van Persie’s recent outburst at Diaby following a needless yellow emphasized for some players the need to stay disciplined.  Though a valuable lesson, it came at the expense of an Arsenal title.

Conclusion

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    If Arsenal win their final three games, they will likely finish 6-9 points behind Manchester United.  Five victories in the discussed games would have added 11 points to Arsenal’s season total.  Without a doubt, this would have sealed the Premier League title and ended the tireless chorus of another season with no trophy.

    Of course, every contender this season had games that slipped through their fingers–just as shots seem to slip through Aluminia’s gloves.  However, the results discussed were very winnable games, results that–if things had changed slightly–could have fallen in Arsenal’s favor.  In a game of inches, though, sometimes you land just short.  And as the season winds down, Arsenal players and fans alike will rue missed opportunities.