If his Arsenal side end up facing the prospect of a season without Champions League football at the Emirates for the first time ever, Arsene Wenger will know it has been their home form over the past month that has cost them.
The French manager cut a dejected figure after seeing Paul Lambert’s battling Norwich become the third successive side to take at least a point from their trip to north London.
Not since Newcastle United pipped them on goal difference in Wenger’s first season in England back in 1997 — while they were still up the road at Highbury — have Arsenal failed to book a place in Europe’s premier club competition.
Yet after failing to beat Chelsea, Wigan and Norwich in successive matches at the Emirates since their 1-0 victory over Manchester City last month, the 62-year-old admitted that is now a possibility.
“We’ve only taken two points from the last three games at home and when you are so close to the end of the season, you have to have a lot of regrets. Let’s hope we will not pay for that,” he said.
“It was a massive blow not to win and the only question for us now is what the price will be. Will it be us out of the Champions League? We will have to see but the only thing we can hope now is that mathematically we are not second best going into the final game.”
Norwich have defied all expectations this season under Lambert. Despite Yossi Benayoun’s goal inside the opening 70 seconds, the visitors were far from overawed by Arsenal and deserved to equalise through Wes Hoolahan — still ignored by Giovanni Trapattoni — courtesy of an uncharacteristic mistake by Wojciech Szczesny.
Grant Holt’s 16th goal of a memorable season gave them the lead until Robin van Persie finally took one of several chances that had come his way to make it 2-2. His second duly arrived 10 minutes from time as the Emirates breathed a collective sigh of relief, but there was to be a sting in the tail as Steve Morison’s accurate finish from Jonny Howson’s superb pass stunned the home supporters.
It could have proved even more costly for the Gunners had Spurs not missed their chance to go third at Vila Park yesterday.
“It’s an amazing achievement for us,” said Lambert, who hopes to be given the chance to reinforce his squad in the summer.
“I’ve had everything out of our players for the last three years but they will need a hand to kick on. A miracle has happened here but everyone needs help. You have to keep progressing the club forward.”
For Wenger, Bacary Sagna’s broken leg that will rule him out of Euro 2012 was yet more bad news on a difficult day.
The Frenchman claimed Bradley Johnson had deliberately stepped on his leg.
Sagna collapsed shortly after Johnson trod on his leg, the same one he broke earlier in the season.
“I think he did it on purpose,’’ the 29-year-old said. “He stepped on my leg. Play continues, I get back on my feet. And when I tried to control the ball, I felt a crack, just like the first time at Tottenham.
“He stepped right where the plate was. I think the plate pressured (the bone). It’s a neat break, just above the plate.”
Van Persie was presented with his PFA and Football Writers’ Player of the year awards on the pitch before the match and he celebrated by making it 30 Premier League goals for the season.
Yet the Dutchman’s manager conceded Arsenal have come to rely too much on their talismanic captain.
“When you look at the chances we created it’s absolutely unbelievable that we didn’t score more than three goals,” Wenger admitted.
“But again we were punished for not getting enough goals from elsewhere — Robin scored twice and we really needed someone else to score another but it doesn’t happen enough.”
The signing of German striker Lukas Podolski should help spread the burden, although whether he will join a team playing Champions League football remains to be seen. A fourth-placed finish may not be enough if Chelsea beat Bayern Munich, although Wenger refused to speculate on the final.
“I have no gut-feeling. I’m just gutted,” he said.
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