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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Apr 2, 2008

Wenger aghast as 'blatant penalty' is denied

Arsene Wenger blasted referee Pieter Vink for turning down an Arsenal penalty claim in tonight's 1-1 Champions League quarter-final draw in the first leg at home to Liverpool.

The match was finely balanced in the second period at the Emirates Stadium when Dirk Kuyt appeared to pull back Aleksandr Hleb in the box - only for the Dutch official to wave play on.

Arsenal had scored first through an Emmanuel Adebayor header, Kuyt equalising four minutes later in the first half.

Gunners boss Wenger believes his side have been denied a clear advantage for next Tuesday's second leg at Anfield.

'There was a blatant penalty,' he said. 'It was not given - and just under the eyes of the referee. This sort of thing has happened to us frequently - and with the referee that close, it should have been given.

'If he is in a bad position we can see why it wasn't given. But he was so close to Kuyt and still didn't give the penalty. It is difficult to understand why it wasn't given.'

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez said: 'I have seen the replay of the penalty appeal. But in England that sort of thing is not given, because it was not clear.'

Wenger believes Arsenal deserved to take a lead to Anfield.

'I feel we were not rewarded for what we produced,' he added. 'To finish that game 1-1 is disappointing. We produced the performances we wanted and we had the chances to win it.

'Liverpool created very little, and the whole second half was played in one half. I cannot fault my players - we were unlucky on several occasions.'

Wenger accepts Arsenal will face a tough task next week.

'It will be a test now for us in the second leg,' he predicted. 'But we should have won. Kuyt played virtually as a second right-back for much of the game, and they defended well all over the pitch.

'But you could see that the players have given a lot recently. In a game like that you do not create 20 chances - you may get four or five. We did manage to make that amount of chances - and just didn't take them.

'We were punished by their one really good opportunity - and we did not take ours.'

Wenger confirmed that Robin van Persie was taken off with a possible recurrence of a thigh injury.

'We were caught on the counter-attack, and credit to Steven Gerrard - because he showed a tough of class by creating that goal,' he pointed out. 'But even then the ball was deflected into the six-yard area. It made it difficult for us to defend.

'Gerrard played well, but they sat deep and just waited for the counter-attack. But he is the ideal player to find when you have won the ball and want to counter. He had a good game, because we threw men forward.

'But if you look at our amount of possession compared to Liverpool, it is frightening that we could only come out of it with a 1-1.

Wenger acknowledged the speed of Liverpool's reaction to going a goal down had a significant bearing on the outcome.

'We were unsettled when they equalised - it was a mental blow,' he said. 'You could see it was a big blow for us to take - because we had scored first and we were playing well.

'It was like a thunderstorm going through our ranks, and we lost composure and our nerve.'

Benitez is confident Liverpool will have an advantage playing in front of their fanatical support at Anfield.

He said: 'I do not think we are favourites now, not against a team like Arsenal. But we will be at Anfield, with our own supporters, and it will be a massive difference.

'We will be playing against a fantastic team who have all the ability to hit us on the break - just like we did.'