Tuesday 26 September 2017

Kuyt stuns Wenger's beautiful bridesmaids

Arsenal hit self-destruct button once more as Reds battle back
Arsenal 1
Liverpool 1

Robin Van Persie celebrates firing home Arsenal's late penalty in the 98th minute. Photo: Getty Images
Robin Van Persie celebrates firing home Arsenal's late penalty in the 98th minute. Photo: Getty Images
Dirk Kuyt celebrates his equaliser Photo: Getty Images

And that is why Arsenal remain beautiful bridesmaids. And that is why Arsenal, for all their individual elegance, for all their collective style, will not be champions of the Premier League.

Manchester United would have seen this game out, protecting their lead with their lives. And that is why United are destined to lift the trophy.

Teams must fight for the right to be called the best in the land. They must show grit and guile as well as all the flourishes in possession associated with Arsene Wenger's attractive, but psychologically brittle team. Six games remain for Arsenal to make up six points (and six goals) on United. They won't catch United playing with this paucity of killer instinct. The fat lady can begin loosening her larynx on the Stretford End.

Arsenal's campaign did not simply fade here on a balmy afternoon in London. The title was lost in the dropped points from 4-0 up at St James' Park, the four points dropped to West Brom, the stalemates here with Sunderland and Blackburn Rovers.

Too many mistakes have scarred the season, even away from the Premier League at such vaunted venues as Wembley and Camp Nou.

In his captain's programme notes for the Blackburn game, Cesc Fabregas wrote that the team must eradicate defensive errors. It all seemed so promising for Arsenal yesterday when Jay Spearing, making arguably his only mistake of a dynamic performance, clearly tripped Fabregas and Robin van Persie emphatically swept home the spot-kick.

All Arsenal needed to do was keep it tight, avoid rash actions. What happened? As the seconds ticked down, there was Emmanuel Eboue running into the back of Lucas, who was heading away from goal, bringing the Brazilian down, gifting Dirk Kuyt the chance to equalise.

He didn't miss. This was the day when Arsenal and Liverpool went Dutch on the penalties. This was the day when Arsenal's last dream of silverware died. This was also the day which highlighted the integrity of the Premier League and of Liverpool Football Club. Although aware that Arsenal were the only ones capable of preventing United eclipsing Liverpool's old record of 18 titles, Kenny Dalglish's team never gave up.

In helping United towards the coveted crown, Liverpool actually demonstrated why they themselves are heading towards a brighter future; there was a unity, a resilience, a promise in Spearing, John Flanagan and Jack Robinson that bodes well for Liverpool.

Wenger (left) decried Dalglish's tactics as overly defensive, but they always played with two up, first Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll and then Suarez and Kuyt.

Liverpool thoroughly deserved this point. They had resisted Arsenal marvelously, Lucas and Spearing shielding an ever-changing defence tirelessly. Fabio Aurelio pulled up lame, again, so the 17-year-old Robinson came on.

Then Jamie Carragher was taken away on a stretcher, having collided with Flanagan. So, Liverpool's back four comprised two teenagers and two understudy centre-halves and Arsenal could find a way through only once. Liverpool's staff, players and fans loved the denouement.

Carragher emerged from the dressing-room, bruised and bare-footed, to celebrate. Dalglish hugged his players, particularly youngsters like Spearing. Dalglish also made sure he consoled Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott.

Wenger informed Dalglish that it was never a penalty, and received a dismissive, toxic reply which could offend FA ears if they are being over-sensitive.

Wenger, graceless, then railed about the decision-making and time-keeping of Andre Marriner, who actually had a good game, getting the big calls right.

Irrelevant

He added on eight minutes for Carragher's injury and then more for Liverpool time-wasting. Wenger's point about over-time was irrelevant anyway; teams must keep going until the final whistle. Arsenal didn't.

Too much plumage admiring.

For a manager who famously never sees anything, Wenger is in danger of also becoming the man who never hears anything. Calls for a robust centre-half have come from all quarters. Is there anybody close to Wenger brave enough to offer advice? Or that he would listen to?

The feeling around the Emirates is that Wenger would ignore any wise counsel anyway. His team, his way.

Arsenal fans deserved better. They keep turning up, enjoying the lovely football, but with the growing understanding that they will be let down. Yet even so, as the second half progressed with little urgency, the home fans could have done more. The life in their Premier League season was draining away, going the way of the Carling Cup, the Champions League and the FA Cup.

This was it, the last hope, yet Arsenal fans were surprisingly mute. The meek may inherit the earth, but they tend not to win the Premier League. Old Trafford would have been in ferment, screaming "attack, attack, attack."

Arsenal need a clear-out in the summer, the selling of the likes of Manuel Almunia, Tomas Rosicky, Denilson and Nicklas Bendtner, yet they were not the problem yesterday. They never even started.

Arsenal had a talented enough team out, the 'A' listers like Van Persie, Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Wilshere, but they seemed tired, mentally and physically. The Carling Cup is the defeat that keeps repeating.

Arsenal require a tweak to their mindset and judicious strengthening in the transfer market. At least Wojciech Szczesny confirmed his quality. Down the other end, Arsenal had their chances. Abou Diaby flicked a header wide, Fabregas' shot was blocked by Flanagan before Laurent Koscielny beat Pepe Reina to Van Persie's corner but hit the bar.

When Robinson arrived, Theo Walcott sensed an opportunity and started running at the ingenu. But Robinson stood firm, seeing off Walcott, then Bendtner and eventually Andrei Arshavin.

Liverpool were defending zealously, occasionally resorting to excessive means such as when Flanagan went through the back of Nasri. Even when Carragher was carried away, earning sympathetic applause from the Arsenal fans, Liverpool continued to defend stoically. And then came the penalties.

Heaven knows what the watching Stan Kroenke made of Arsenal's faltering. The watching Ferguson will have loved it. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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