Arsenal’s EPL title hopes fading away

Posted on April 21, 2011 by

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Arsenal saw their faint Premier League title aspirations essentially snuffed out after drawing 3-3 with Tottenham yesterday. This tie followed a wild 1-1 draw over the weekend against Liverpool at the Emirates.

Arsenal and Liverpool’s rollicking contest had been deadlocked at 0-0 for 98 minutes, with only a spattering of goal-scoring opportunities before ‘pool’s Jay Spearing brought down Gunners captain Cesc Fabregas in the penalty area, allowing Robin van Persie to step up and coolly slot home from the spot.

An improbable four more minutes of stoppage time later (Liverpool’s talismanic defender and captain Jamie Carragher had been stretchered off earlier after sustaining a concussion from an ugly collision of heads, which caused the surplus of extra time), Arsenal defender Emmanuel Eboue inexplicably crashed into Liverpool’s Lucas Leiva from behind just outside the six-yard box, conceding a second penalty.

Dutch winger Dirk Kuyt stepped up and dispatched a brilliant penalty for what would be the last kick of the game. Arsenal’s players fell to the ground in disbelief, unable to see out a 1-0 lead and maintain a steely nerve that distinguishes the true contenders from pretenders. Their title challenge, which had seemed back on mere moments earlier, had come crashing down after the most improbable of sequences.

To add to their despair, Arsenal blew a 3-1 first-half lead yesterday and eventually drew 3-3 in an entertaining match against Tottenham Hotspurs. The two teams play fun, free-flowing footy, which allows for offense to get the better of their matches, much to the crowd’s delight. The North London derby started off fast as the visiting Gunners went up 2-1 within twelve minutes of the starting whistle.

Theo Walcott opened the scoring, adding another goal to what has been a great campaign for the young Englishman. His 5th minute effort was equalized within two minutes by Tottenham’s new main man, Rafael Van Der Vaart. The Dutchman has had an amazing first season in the English Premier League and is a definite candidate for player of the year honors. The two teams were only tied for 5 minutes before Arsenal’s own player of the year candidate, Samir Nasri of France, scored on a snap shot from just outside the box.

Robin Van Persie would add to Arsenal’s lead in the 4oth minute, but a quick response from Tottenham midfielder, Tom Huddlestone, made it 3-2 at the half. The second half brought an equal amount of chances and entertaining footy, but the lone goal came from a penalty kick off the foot of Van Der Vaart in the 70th minute, making the score 3-3.

So what did these games tell us about Arsenal? Most importantly, this youthful side once more showed a lack of ironclad leadership necessary to maintain a lead, just as they’d done against Tottenham and Newcastle earlier in the season, after leading 2-0 and 4-0, respectively. They lost to Tottenham 3-2, and drew with Newcastle 4-4. Hardly the mark of a champion. All signs now point to a sixth consecutive campaign without silverware for the North London outfit.

The Gunners now sit six points behind Manchester United in the Barclay’s Premier League, despite adding to must be the most deceiving 15-game unbeaten run in Premier League history. They are currently tied with cross-town rivals, Chelsea for a share of second place and have a lot of work to do in order to reach their goal of winning the titile. They have yet to play their second fixture against United, on May 1. It would be foolish, however, to think that the Red Devils would concede their lead, and fail to win a record 19th League title.

Arsenal have always been able to score goals, but recently, opposing teams seem content to use the game plan Manchester United has adopted against the Gunners for the past several seasons, playing nearly 10 men behind the ball and allowing Arsenal to play their pretty passing game, happy to counter attack with incision. It’s working. United have not lost to Arsenal since Nov. 2008 and look on pace to secure another title as Arsenal’s 2011 title hopes are all but over.

-Hutch, Matt

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