Eboue the latest gormless Gunner to self-destruct

ARSENAL have pressed the self-destruct button so hard and so many times this season that finally — like an over-used letter on a typewriter — it now appears permanently depressed, a symbol of a once high-tech piece of apparatus that is no longer fit for purpose.

No technician can save the Gunners now, no last-minute work on the training ground or computer wizardry off it can rescue their championship bid; not after what happened at the Emirates last night. The button is broken and the title is gone.

What went through Emmanuel Eboue’s mind as he pushed over Liverpool’s Lucas Leiva in the 12th minute of injury time yesterday when Arsenal were winning 1-0 and about to close the gap at the top of the Premier League to just four points?

What possessed the Ivorian full-back to go anywhere near his Brazilian opponent when Lucas was heading away from goal and towards the touchline?

Those questions will be asked by Arsenal fans for years to come because make no mistake after Dirk Kuyt thumped his penalty into the net for 1-1 this was almost certainly the day when Wenger’s dream for 2011 finally exploded.

Once again his team had produced a frustrating display against a defensive Liverpool side whose ambition was further limited by injuries during the match to Jamie Carragher, Andy Carroll and Fabio Aurelio.

But all that could have been forgotten when Jay Spearing clumsily brought down Cesc Fabregas eight minutes into injury time and Robin van Persie coolly converted from the penalty spot.

Surely not even Arsenal, the team that were 4-0 up at Newcastle but ended up drawing 4-4, the team that went out of two competitions in a week, could make a mess of this one?

The answer, unfortunately for those in the red half of north London, was yes they could; and really, despite the constant hope that one day Wenger’s boys will grow a backbone, we all secretly knew it would happen.

The match at Newcastle told you that; the Carling Cup final — when Arsenal froze against mediocre opponents and missed an opportunity to end the trophy drought — told you that.

The Champions League match in Barcelona — when Arsenal had a real chance to be heroes but hid like timid rabbits in their own half and then blamed a red card for Robin van Persie for the defeat — told you that.

It’s not that Wenger is a bad manager or that he has bad players. He doesn’t.

And it’s not that his team don’t play wonderful football, because they do — although not yesterday during another frustrating display in which the home side dominated possession and threw dozens of crosses into the box but rarely looked like scoring.

The problem is something that Wenger cannot teach his team on the training ground; it’s a lack of backbone, a lack of what the Spanish call cohonas and the English call... well, you get the drift.

How else do you explain the way they threw away victory here in such an unprofessional manner when there was so much at stake?

If he was being honest, Wenger would admit he cannot answer that question himself and has been searching desperately for the answer for many months; but instead he resorted to his usual tactic of conspiracy theory, which no longer washes even with his most loyal supporters.

“We conceded a penalty after 11 minutes of injury time when the referee said there was eight minutes. I don’t see where those three minutes came from and it was no penalty — because Lucas stopped in front of Eboue. There was no intervention from Eboue.

“We have been badly done in the last few games here. Against Sunderland we scored a regular goal and were not given a penalty that was 100%. Today we got caught back like that. It’s a period where we have not the biggest luck, that’s for sure.’’

Wenger also complained about Liverpool’s defensive tactics, but not only was his moaning unjustified, he simply wasn’t correct.

Eboue did shove Lucas, it was a penalty, and in truth the visitors did deserve a point from a game in which they worked incredibly hard despite suffering set-backs of their own.

Liverpool lost left-back Fabio Aurelio to a hamstring injury after only 22 minutes and had to bring on 17-year-old Jack Robinson in his place to join 19-year-old full-back John Flanagan.

They were then deprived of captain Carragher when he clashed heads with Flanagan after 62 minutes and had to be carried off on a stretcher after receiving oxygen — which explained the lengthy spell of injury time.

And, although Carragher recovered quickly in the dressing room, they also lost striker Carroll to a knee injury.

The fact that despite all those problems Liverpool still created three good chances — all to Luis Suarez — and largely kept Arsenal at bay says a lot both for Kenny Dalglish’s team’s mentality and Arsenal’s lack of final thrust.

The closest the Gunners came to opening the scoring early on was a Laurent Koscielny header against the bar from a first-half corner but Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina really only had two saves to make — the first from Theo Walcott in the opening minutes and the second from van Persie in the 85th.

It looked as though the game was heading for a frustrating goalless draw until the most dramatic of finales and there cannot be an Arsenal supporter anywhere who will say with any real conviction that his team —who go to Tottenham of all places on Wednesday — can still win the title after wasting such a big opportunity in what effectively was their game in hand.

The result leaves Manchester United six points clear with six games to go as they prepare to travel to Newcastle tomorrow.

And Alex Ferguson, who suffered his own nightmare against noisy neighbours on Saturday, looked rather smug as he watched it all unfold.

There is no need for a self-destruct button any more for Arsenal — they have already blown it.

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