Arsenal 1 – 1 Liverpool
1 – 0 van Persie (90 pen)
1 – 1 Kuyt (90 pen)
Crucial wins have been snatched from the jaws of a draw over the years at Old Trafford in Fergie Time. Arsenal took similar advantage and let it slip in a matter of minutes as the Liverpudlian equivalent kicked in.
The title race edged closer to its finale with the sour thought emerging that Manchester United might have sealed the title before their visit to The Emirates, even worse sealing it at The Emirates. Arsenal must buck up. They need to perform better at home. Or be able to sneak a win.
Fifteen matches unbeaten since losing at Old Trafford is an exceptional run, the sort that can win titles if only it did not consist of 8 wins and 7 draws. Infuriatingly, of those draws three winning positions have been ceded. Six points. The same gap to United at the top.
Worryingly, Arsenal have become inhibited at home. Successive goalless draws against Sunderland and Blackburn looked like being replicated here until a manic finale occurred.
The players seem stifled by inconsistency, passes fizzing around the turf are followed by lapses in concentration which kill moves. Or a refusal to shoot from distance manifests in uncontrollable urges to pass through defences without the attacking support to finish the move.
Sometimes games can be won by deflections, by headers, by midfielders or attackers taking a chance on a run to the near or far posts or even the centre of the goal. Arsenal are not doing enough of any of them.
It was a largely forgettable match. Liverpool were well-drilled and disciplined in defence, negating the attacking instincts of Arsenal. Welcome returns from Szczesny and Djourou gave the home side’s defence a sturdier look.
Diaby and Walcott had early sniffs of goal but it was Laurent Koscielny who would come closest during normal time, leaping as if an autumnal salmon to beat Reina to a corner, the ball hammering into the crossbar and to safety. It was to be one of few clear opportunities in the first half. Liverpool were happy for Arsenal to pass across the pitch, numbers in the area subduing attacks.
van Persie did put the ball into the net before the interval, his effort ruled offside and surprisingly, no card forthcoming. A unique refereeing edict in Switzerland not making its way to the Premier League. Uniqueness in the Premier League was to follow when referee Andre Marriner signalled a seemingly correct eight minutes to be added to the ninety following a head injury to Jamie Carragher. Inexplicably he found three more to add whilst the eight was being played.
In the second half, Reina stood between van Persie and a winning goal, blocking and plucking the Dutchman’s efforts. When he was beaten, the side netting rescued him.
The drama would come as a result of the injury time added. Spearing fouled Fàbregas in the area, van Persie comfortably scored from the spot. As the clock ran down, a Liverpool free kick found the Arsenal wall.
As the ball span into air, Lucas got in front of Eboué and the full back bundled into him. Penalty awarded. It was harsh, yes, but that type of decision is nearly always given irrespective of the foul in the first instant. Eboué is experienced enough to know that and whilst an element of his momentum made the collision inevitable, landing on top of the Liverpool midfield sealed his fate.
Post-match, Arsène bemoaned Liverpool‘s tactics,
they defended well, like most of the Premier League teams that come here now
That being the case, it is time for Arsenal to evolve. One reason why teams play like that is a perception of the home side’s predictability. That has to be shattered in the remaining fixtures, especially against United who even play like that when they host Arsenal.
So where does it leave Arsenal’s title hopes. The emotional rollercoaster continues. Victory over United has to be acheived as well as them losing one or ideally, drawing two of their remaining six matches. With Chelsea needing the points to catch second, that is not beyond the realms of belief.
Arsenal need to regroup on and off the pitch. Players need to lift themselves, as do the supporters. These are desperately disappointing times but to win the title out of this apparent adversity will be a testament to the resilience that the manager often tells us that this squad has. Time for them to prove him right.