Having taken the lead in stoppage time, the Gunners were quick to shoot themselves in the foot, as Dirk Kuyt's last-gasp equalizer shows yet another display of mental fragility
By Greg Stobart at Emirates Stadium
Not for the first time, a goal in the last minute of a game between Liverpool and Arsenal has decided the destination of the title in England.
Dirk Kuyt's penalty in the 12th minute of added time at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday night will not live in the memory for quite as long as Michael Thomas' Anfield winner for the Gunners in 1989.
In front of Stan Kroenke, the American businessman who has taken over the club, Arsenal showed exactly why it will not win the Premier League this season, and exactly why Manchester United will triumph in the top flight of English football for a 19th time.
Arsene Wenger's reaction at the end of the game spoke a thousand words from a man who had already conceded that failure to beat the Merseysiders would effectively end his side's title tilt.
The Frenchman first sought a row with Reds boss Kenny Dalglish, then marched onto the pitch to confront referee Andre Marriner before finally spewing his frustration to the press.
He complained about the length of additional time after the 90 minutes, he vehemently protested against the decision to award Liverpool's penalty and took every opportunity to take a dig at the visitors' “negative” tactics.
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What Wenger did not do was accept the home truths that have confronted him in Arsenal's last three games at this stadium.
He knew Arsenal had blown it but was looking to point the finger anywhere but his own players – or even himself – for yet another display of complete mental fragility. The Gunners only had to hold on for five minutes following Robin van Persie's spot-kick to claim all three points against a Liverpool side that barely mustered a shot on target during the match.
When asked about Emmanuel Eboue's clumsy challenge on Lucas that gave Marriner no choice but to point to the spot, Wenger insisted that the Ivorian had not fouled the Liverpool midfielder, refused to acknowledge the naivety of Arsenal's defending and the utter panic in the side once they had taken the lead.
|"If Arsenal's Invincibles won the Premier League in 2004, then it is the Invertebrates who have blown their chance of glory this year"
Yet the Gunners were completely devoid of ideas, drive and creativity – just as they were in a dire goalless draw against Blackburn in their previous outing at the Emirates. The frustration in the crowd boiled over into anger on many occasions, particularly in the second half as Liverpool was able to get a body in the way of Arsenal's intricate passing moves.
Arsenal needed a killer instinct but Fabregas could not produce a match-winning pass; it needed a touch of class in front of goal but Van Persie smashed a clear chance straight at Pepe Reina; it needed a bit of luck but Laurent Koscielny's header hit the crossbar and bounced away from the goal.
But it has been the same story for Arsenal throughout the season and the opposite for Manchester United, which has constantly proved its mental strength collectively and as individuals.
Wenger's side now sits six points behind United with six games to play. It is a gap they will not close and the players' reactions at the final whistle, their body language as they trudged off the field, suggested they know that to be true.
“Bottlers” was the word one fan sat near the press box screamed towards the players, his face puce with rage and sheer emotion. He had gone through the agony of watching Arsenal toil, the relief of them taking the lead, and the resignation of watching them throw it away. Any Gunners supporter who had been at the League Cup final would not have been surprised.
Wenger needs to change both the mindset and the personnel to make sure that six years without a trophy does not become seven next season. Kroenke has made it clear he has no intention of interfering with the football side of the club, but he could do worse than give Wenger a metaphorical kick up the backside to make sure Arsenal sign a proven central defender who can lead from the back.
Wenger's refrain when he oversaw great Arsenal sides of the past used to always be about “mental strength”, now he talks about “character” almost sheepishly, knowing that he is in charge of a team with about as much backbone as an earthworm.
If Arsenal's Invincibles won the Premier League in 2004, then it is the Invertebrates who have blown their chance of glory this year.
Wenger and his new boss need to accept that if the club is to move on into a new era.
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