Furious Wenger lashes referees in penalty row
West Brom 1 Arsenal 1
Arsene Wenger launched a withering attack on referee Mike Dean and the Premier League as his 811th record game in charge was mired in controversy.
Wenger and officials have endured a fractious relationship during his 21 years as Arsenal manager and Dean's dreadful decision to award West Bromwich Albion a late penalty left the Frenchman issuing a familiar tirade at refereeing standards.
The pivotal moment came in the 89th minute, when Calum Chambers was harshly penalised for handball and Jay Rodriguez put away the spot-kick to deny Arsenal victory and move Albion off the bottom of the table.
It had appeared that Arsenal would secure their manager a late victory in his landmark game after Alexis Sanchez's free-kick was deflected off James McClean, with the Chilean attacker pursued to the corner flag in what appeared a clear message of unity.
Surrounded by nine of his Arsenal team-mates, this goal celebration certainly killed off the conspiracy theories after the incident at Crystal Palace, when he seemed to mark one of his goals in near isolation.
However, it was the wild scenes sparked by the home team's late equaliser that irritated Wenger, as he passed Alex Ferguson's record of Premier League games.
Battling to conceal his fury, Wenger said: "It wasn't a penalty. It was not a deliberate handball. When you are as close as that, it's impossible to play football.
"The referee has not seen it. That's my opinion - he will tell you that he has seen it.
"I don't want to waste my time with them. We have to live with the decision, to deal with it and to swallow it and go to the next game.
"I'm angry because we have seen and seen the same things again. I did fight very hard for the referees to become professional many years ago and they did a good job to allow them to be professional, but I see no improvement.
"At the end of the day, there are two countries in Europe where you have professional referees - in Italy and in England. Not one English referee will go to the World Cup, but everything is all right.
"We cannot say a word against it because they're untouchable. That is the truth. It's not only me that judges them," he added.
Wenger also turned his fire on the Premier League over the hectic festive schedule, with Arsenal facing Chelsea at the Emirates on Wednesday.
"You cannot have West Brom to prepare five days for a game like that, (and) we have three," he said.
"I am ready to play every day as long as our opponent has the same time recovery over Christmas. It is not normal.
"We have the same problem against Chelsea. They played yesterday, we played today, they have one day more again.
"The Premier League has to look at the schedule. You have to look to see if you have the same amount of recovery days as the opposition. Come back to me when that happens."
Arsenal's last visit to the Hawthorns resulted in a full-on Tony Pulis bombardment of set pieces and aggression.
That 3-1 defeat was at a time when the future of Wenger was still shrouded in fog, with the game played against a backdrop noise of propellers as a plane with an uncomplimentary message attached to it hovered overhead.
This latest encounter was a lifeless affair, with the drama being reserved for the final seven minutes, starting when Sanchez's free-kick took a significant deflection off substitute McClean and the ball arced into the corner.
Albion had been the better team for most of the afternoon, but the absence of a proven centre-forward is damaging Alan Pardew's survival mission - something he will look to address now the January transfer window is open.
Yet the fortune they have been missing surfaced spectacularly when Dean took centre stage a minute from time.
As Kieran Gibbs ambled into the area, the ball struck Chambers on the arm and Dean dramatically pointed to the spot.
Petr Cech was booked for complaining and some of Arsenal's players stood with their heads in their hands, struggling to comprehend what was unfolding in front of them.
Rodriguez scored from the penalty spot - only the third goal in Pardew's seven games - to provide the strugglers with a lift ahead of their trip to West Ham tomorrow.
This draw extends Albion's run to 19 league games without a win, but there were positives for Pardew to take from this match.
"I can see why Arsene is angry, I think I'd be very upset if it (the penalty) was given against me. But we got a break and deserved this," he said.
"There was a lot of pressure on us and, playing Arsenal, we had to get something today.
"It would have been really tough for our fans to have seen the team put that commitment in, drinking on New Year's Eve on the back of a defeat.
"I'm really pleased for them that we got something for them to enjoy, if only for a little while." (© Daily Telegraph, London)