Premier League - Collapse dents Arsenal bid

Sun, 17 Apr 18:02:00 2011

Arsenal's Premier League title challenge suffered an astonishing setback as they exchanged stoppage-time penalties with Liverpool in a 1-1 draw.

Match Highlights: Arsenal

Robin van Persie looked to have given Arsenal a last-gasp win when he converted a spot-kick in the eighth minute of added time.

But Emmanuel Eboue's shove on Lucas Leiva allowed Dirk Kuyt to equalise with the last kick of the game 12 minutes into stoppage time.

It was a truly extraordinary climax to a second half in which an injury to Jamie Carragher led to a long halt in play, and leaves the Gunners six points behind Manchester United with the same number of matches remaining.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger exchanged angry words with his opposite number Kenny Dalglish at the end, before turning his ire on referee Andre Marriner.

For 97 minutes the game seemed destined to end in Arsenal's third consecutive goalless league draw at the Emirates, where they had not seen a Premier League goal since February 23.

But the finish rendered all that had gone before mere details.

Following Carragher's injury, the fourth official signalled for eight minutes of stoppage time. In the seventh of those Cesc Fabregas, whose tendency to overelaborate had hitherto got the better of him, was brought down by Jay Spearing for a clear penalty.

Van Persie coolly despatched his shot, sending Pepe Reina the wrong way and provoking a wave of ecstatic relief around the Emirates.

With time all but expired, Liverpool took a shot direct from the kick-off, and were given a golden chance when Alex Song brought down Lucas at the edge of the box.

Luis Suarez's free-kick hit the wall, but as Marriner prepared to blow the final whistle, Eboue floored Lucas with a brainless push - a clear penalty, despite Arsenal's desperate protests.

Kuyt kept his cool admirably, planting the penalty into the right corner, and the final whistle blew milliseconds after the ball slammed into the net.

Earlier in the piece, Liverpool could have had a penalty in the fifth minute when Spearing was upended inside the box, but the strangely lacklustre appeal did little to convince Marriner.

They continued their bright start with efforts from Suarez and Carroll but the strikers, so effective against Manchester City on Monday, faded as the half progressed.

Theo Walcott drifted inside from the right to hit a swerving shot that nearly embarrassed Reina, before Laurent Koscielny headed against the crossbar from a corner.

Van Persie then had the ball in the net, meeting Fabregas's lofted diagonal ball with an exquisite finish, but he had been flagged offside.

Liverpool might have inadvertently helped United on their way to a record 19th domestic title, but they will take plenty of positives from a determined performance.

Spearing played well, as did inexperienced full-backs John Flanagan and Jack Robinson, who replaced the injured Fabio Aurelio early on.

However, Carragher's injury was worrying. The defender had a clash of heads with his team-mate Flanagan, and was given oxygen and a neck brace, and carried off on a stretcher - although he was said to be fully conscious and sitting up in the dressing room.

Liverpool also have an injury concern over Carroll, who appeared to hyperextend a knee and was brought off with 20 minutes remaining.

As for Arsenal, their failure to get players into the box and create clear chances continues to foil them. Their commitment to 'playing football', while admirable, leads them too often to gild the lily in search of a beautiful goal when all they really need is an ugly tap-in.

And they retain an unhappy knack of squandering seemingly unassailable positions - Liverpool's equaliser was incredible, yet also unsurprising.

Alex Ferguson watched in the stands - a role he has become familiar with during his touchline ban - and will scarcely have been so overjoyed at a Liverpool goal.

Alex Chick / Eurosport

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