Late, late lamentations.

Arsenal vs Liverpool. A fixture illuminated by the veneer of engrained British tradition between two of the most recognizable clubs in the English game. Certainly as well it is a game that rarely fails to surprise. And amongst the great battles between these two clubs, and the logic defying results that compile an almost endless list headed by Anfield ’89, yesterday’s encounter will be right up there. When the dust settles and even the most fervent optimists accept that the title was lost long before Dirk Kuyt’s 102nd minute penalty, hindsight will cast a glowing light on a remarkable string of events.

However, if this game is to be remembered as one of the greats in Premier League history, it will solely be in light of the events which happened after 90 minutes had been played. Prior to this, and before the unprecedented drama that ensued, the match was little more than predictable and drab. With Liverpool missing key first teamers due to injury, young Jay Spearing and Jonathon Flanagan kept their places from Monday’s mauling of Man City in place of Glen Johnson and Gerrard. This while Arsenal began more adequately equipped with Wojciech Szczeny and Johan Djourou returning to bolster a defensive quartet now only missing Bacary Sagna. The Frenchman, who was later named in the PFA team of the year for the 2nd time in his 4 year Arsenal career, was most notably missed in the dying seconds when Eboue foolishly sinned. Yet prior to this fatal misdemeanor the Ivorian looked lively and focused, helping to consistently establish Arsenal in Liverpool’s half.

Nevertheless, first half openings came and went for the Gunners, as Koscielny saw his header cannon off the crossbar from a Van Persie corner and Fabregas too came close with a low drive. Indeed the familiarity with which Arsenal failed to trouble Pepe Reina other than with speculative efforts, like Theo Walcott’s stinging drive, was predictable.  Pretty patterns and fluent passing was consistently on display yet as the first half ended just as Arsenal’s previous two home games had done, the 0_0 score line smacked of both physical and mental weariness. Jack Wilshere, who was later also lauded for his season’s efforts with the PFA Young Player of The Year Award, looked drained, whilst Fabregas fell back into the anonymity which preceded his impressive display at Blackpool. Even more worrying was the seeming languor shown by Robin Van Persie who portrayed an image of indifference and exhaustion, despite having missed large junks of the season through injury.

The infectivity of Arsenal’s 2nd half dominance was almost punished by a constantly active Luis Suarez who had two second half efforts at the Arsenal goal. Both however evaded the net and allowed the home support to sustain a faint hope of catching United. Though any dreams of a late surge looked to have been dashed when Van Persie fluffed a late chance, remarkably prayers seemed to have been answered when, with the 8 minutes of time added due to Carragher’s lengthy treatment for a head injury coming to a close, Jay Spearing unwittingly tripped Fabregas for a penalty. Van Persie’s calm in dispatching beyond Reina however was painfully parodied moments later by an act of characteristic foolishness from Emmaneul Eboue. With Lucas heading away from goal, the right back prodded him in his back with a flailing arm and, although the contact was minimal, the sprawling Brazilian was clever and earned his team an obscenely late lifeline. Kuyt replicated his fellow Dutchman in cooly passing the ball into the net and, with that being the last of the game’s action, the scene was something out of Roy of the Rovers. Though such a season defining and season ending moment could only ever be associated with Arsenal. After being given that hope, after being shown a small slither of possibility having previously had it buried so often, the door to Zion was slammed in our faces. Yet slammed not by the enemy, but by a loose and irresponsible limb of one of our own.  An Oscar would suffice for such a script.

Come the final whistle shock was the overriding reaction, yet fury, exasperation, disillusionment and worry will soon set in, if they haven’t already. Fury in particular will be directed at Wenger as the ever-growing scapegoat. Certainly his denial at full time will be a cause of disgust as he turned to speculative excuses rather than addressing the moronic behavior of one of his players, ‘”I don’t see where those three minutes came from and it was no penalty.’  Yet the old adage that it is the bad loser in you that creates the winner seems relevant here. It’s just a pity recent seasons have forced us to be presented with more of the former than the latter. Almost as if to hammer home this cold truth, soon after came the all too common denouncement of yet another season when Wenger did his best to insist the title is still attainable, “It is about us winning our games. The hope is always there but, to keep the hope alive, it is up to us to win our games.’

The summer will be a welcome relief to another season which promised so much but failed to deliver. Regrouping, rebuilding and refocusing will be the priorities from June to August, during and after which Arsene will need to dip into his once Magic Hat and placate a growing group of anti Wenger anarchists. Before then however battles with Spurs and United await and our two greatest rivals will be faced with no more than pride at stake. This is when the true character of the team will be unearthed.


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