Liverpool have reacted with collective fury after Howard Webb, England’s World Cup referee, failed to award a last-minute penalty following a Cesc Fabregas handball.
With only seconds of the match remaining, Steven Gerrard attempted to bend a free kick around Arsenal’s wall, only for Fabregas to use his left arm to parry the ball to safety as Arsenal held out for a 1-0 win.
Led by Gerrard, the Liverpool players protested to Webb, but the appeals were waved away to add to the sense of injustice at Anfield following a string of controversial refereeing decisions this season.
“I’m really disappointed with the handball decision,” said Rafael Benítez, the Liverpool manager. “It is a handball and has to be a penalty. I don’t know [why he didn’t give it]. The referee was there. We’ve had some decisions this year which we’re not happy about.”
Fabregas had previously also been booked, meaning he could have been sent off if Webb had penalised the handball. Replays, however, indicated that the infringement had taken place just outside the penalty area.
Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, thought the initial free kick should not have been given, although it appeared that Webb had made the decision for a tackle by Fabregas on Dirk Kuyt rather than Abou Diaby’s challenge on Steven Gerrard.
“It was a controversial situation,” said Wenger. “I believe first that it was no free kick. First Steven Gerrard went for a free kick and got one, but it was a bit harsh. Then Cesc touched the ball with his hand.”
Fabregas admitted there may have been contact with his arm. “I maybe touched it a little bit with my hand, but I would have touched it with my head anyway,” he said. “There have been so many incidents that he [Webb] got wrong, that maybe one more isn’t anything more. I think we deserved the win – this was a test of character.”
Fabregas also denied claims by a Spanish radio station that he has reached a verbal agreement to join Barcelona at the end of the season. Barcelona issued a statement yesterday saying there had been no negotiations with Fabregas and the Arsenal captain added: “They denied it, I’ve denied it. I just want to focus on Arsenal – Arsenal FC is above every single player in their history.”
Arsenal’s win closes the gap on Chelsea to just six points and, crucially, they have also now played Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea twice.
“It was a massive result,” said Wenger. “It is a fantastic night for the club. Nobody realises how hard it is to play United, Chelsea and Liverpool on the trot, physically and mentally. We showed great strength and solidarity.
“I believe we will fight until the last second of the season. We believe in our chances. Chelsea again lost, United dropped points so it is open for everybody. I don’t see any mathematical reason why we shouldn’t believe.”
Andrei Arshavin, meanwhile, will have a scan today to determine the severity of a hamstring injury.