Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger berated the match officials after a 1-1 draw with Liverpool left his team six points behind Premier League leader Manchester United with as many games remaining.
Wenger was incensed by referee Andre Marriner’s decision to award Liverpool a penalty in the 12th minute of injury time when Emmanuel Eboue fouled Lucas Leiva. Dirk Kuyt scored with the last kick of the game after Robin Van Persie had put Arsenal ahead from the spot four minutes earlier.
“I feel hard done by in the end because the time was over by three minutes,” Wenger said after yesterday’s match at the Emirates Stadium in London. “Lucas played in an intelligent way. He stopped his run and the referee saw a penalty, but what can you do about it?”
The league represents Arsenal’s last chance of silverware this season after the Gunners were knocked out of the F.A. Cup and the Champions League and lost to Birmingham in the League Cup final. Arsenal last won a trophy in 2005.
Wenger clashed with Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish after Kuyt’s goal. He held his arms out to his side and approached Dalglish, who brushed aside the Arsenal manager’s protests.
“It’s sad if that’s what’s going to be taken away from today,” said Dalglish, who lost defenders Jamie Carragher and Fabio Aurelio to injuries during the game and substituted striker Andy Carroll as a precaution. Captain Steven Gerrard and defenders Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson were also missing.
“I don’t think there’s any team anywhere that would show the same attitude and commitment out there,” Dalglish said. “They went through a wee bit of adversity.”
The game was preceded by a minute’s silence in memory of former Arsenal director Danny Fiszman, who died April 13, two days after selling his 16 percent holding in the club to Stan Kroenke. U.S. investor Kroenke, who’s made a buyout offer for the remaining shares in the 13-time English champion, was among the 60,029 spectators.
Liverpool hadn’t won at Arsenal for more than a decade and had failed to beat the Gunners in their previous seven meetings.
The Reds’ cause wasn’t helped when Aurelio limped off. His replacement Jack Robinson, 17, had only made one substitute appearance, while right-back John Flanagan, 18, was starting for the second time after playing in the 3-0 win over Manchester City on April 11.
Arsenal failed to capitalize on the inexperienced defense even though it controlled possession. Eboue’s scuffed effort in the 44th minute was his team’s best chance in the first half.
The second period followed a similar pattern. Van Persie missed an opening when he shot straight at goalkeeper Jose Reina from Samir Nasri’s flick in the 85th minute.
Wenger said Liverpool had “basically only defended,” adopting the tactic of most visiting Premier League teams to the Emirates Stadium.
“It’s good if we are frustrating opposition managers,” Dalglish said. “We’d take that every day of the week.”
The match was stopped for about eight minutes when Carragher clashed heads with Flanagan and had to be carried off. He returned to the sidelines to watch the closing stages.
Van Persie looked to have given Arsenal all three points when he converted a 98th-minute penalty after Jay Spearing fouled Cesc Fabregas in the area. Wenger pumped his fists to celebrate the goal.
With time running out, Liverpool launched a final attack and got the chance to tie the game when Eboue’s challenge from behind on Lucas was deemed a foul by Marriner.
Arsenal next visits north London rival Tottenham in two days, 24 hours after Manchester United travels to Newcastle. Wenger refused to concede his team’s title challenge was over.
“We will have to give everything until the last,” he said.
By winning the league, Manchester United would claim a record 19th English title, moving one ahead of Liverpool.
“We only look after ourselves,” said Dalglish, who managed Liverpool to its last league title in 1990. “If anybody gets an advantage from our results then so be it.”