Arsene Wenger’s hopes of guiding Arsenal to the Premier League title are in tatters after Dirk Kuyt’s last-gasp penalty earned a dramatic 1-1 draw for Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
With new majority shareholder Stan Kroenke watching from the directors’ box, Wenger’s side appeared to have snatched a stoppage-time victory when Cesc Fabregas was tripped by Jay Spearing in the penalty area.
Robin van Persie scored from the spot but Arsenal couldn’t keep their composure and there was more drama to come, with Lucas Leiva bundled over by Emmanuel Eboue in the 12th minute of added time and Kuyt converting the spot-kick.
It leaves Arsenal six points behind leaders Manchester United with six games for each side to play and the Gunners’ confidence sure to dip even further after three consecutive draws on their own turf.
Arsenal’s failure to rise to the occasion means a season that at one stage could have delivered a quadruple trophy haul will now almost certainly end up with nothing to celebrate.
Wenger was furious with the penalty decision and said: “I feel hard done by at the end because time was over. Extra time should have been eight minutes.
“And I don’t think it was a penalty at all but Lucas played in an intelligent way, he stopped his run in front of Emmanuel Eboue. But we have to take it and continue to fight.”
Reds boss Kenny Dalglish added: “What my team did at the end epitomised what they did all day. Everything was battling against us and they still remained committed to get something from the game.
“That’s fantastic. You can maybe play better but you won’t find a more committed team than the one out there today.”
The hosts were able to recall Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny after a finger injury, while Switzerland defender Johan Djourou returned from a dislocated shoulder despite being ruled out for the season when he picked up the problem.
Djourou could have given a penalty away in the opening stages of the match when Spearing went over his challenge in the area, but referee Andre Marriner waved play on.
Another goalless draw for Arsenal appeared unlikely during a burst of goalmouth action which started when Pepe Reina parried Theo Walcott’s drive and John Flanagan had to clear desperately when Van Persie hooked the rebound into the danger area.
From the resulting corner from Van Persie, Laurent Koscielny jumped above Jamie Carragher and headed against the crossbar, with Walcott claiming a handball against Lucas when his follow-up shot.
Van Persie also had the ball in the net when he volleyed home Fabregas’s long pass over the Liverpool defence, but the Dutch forward had been ruled offside.
Liverpool soaked up the rest of the first-half pressure without conceding, although Flanagan and Skrtel were given yellow cards for rash challenges.
Fabio Aurelio also picked up an injury and needed to be replaced by Jack Robinson, meaning the visitors had youngsters in both full-back positions.
After the break Dalglish’s team threatened to take the lead when Uruguay forward Luis Suarez went on a run and curled his finish just wide. He also tested Szczesny with a long-range effort.
England striker Andy Carroll had looked a threat and Liverpool were breathing a sigh of relief when he went over his ankle but was able to play on.
Carragher, however, needed to be substituted after smacking into Flanagan and getting carried off on a stretcher in need of oxygen and a neck brace.
That accounted for the long period of injury-time, with Van Persie opening the scoring before Kuyt’s leveller with the final kick of the game.
Wenger responded by stalking towards Dalglish to protest that Lucas had dived but the Scot’s angry response quickly brought an end to the conversation.