Arsenal manager Wenger refuses to accept defeat in battle for football top prize
( AFP ) - Arsene Wenger refused to concede defeat in the English Premier League title race despite seeing Arsenal held to a costly 1-1 draw by Liverpool.
The setback left the Gunners five points adrift of leaders Manchester United having played a game more and their chances of winning a first championship crown since 2004 are hanging by the slenderest of threads.
They fell behind to Peter Crouch's goal just before half-time and while a first home defeat of the season was avoided courtesy of Nicklas Bendtner's 55th-minute header, they could not eke out a potentially precious win despite laying siege to Liverpool's goal in the final stages.
Wenger's best hope of silverware now resides in Europe although their failure to beat Liverpool in either of their two meetings this month has handed the Merseysiders the psychological advantage ahead of Tuesday's Champions League quarter-final second leg at Anfield.
In public, however, Wenger is remaining upbeat and insists he will not give up hope until Arsenal - whose breezy start to the season is becoming a more distant memory by the week - are mathematically out of the running.
"I don't know if that is the end of the title race - it depends on the results of the other teams," he said.
"I said before that we would need at least five wins and a draw. In my brain it is not over, because it is not over mathematically."
Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, does not share Wenger's optimism.
"I think it will be difficult for them now," he suggested. "I was asking Arsene before in the race for the title, you cannot lose points now, so it is really difficult.
"Maybe the only option now for them is the Champions League, which means they will be more dangerous for us too."
The Spaniard had more right to feel satisfied with his afternoon's work, having tightened his grip on a fourth-place finish while also sparing a clutch of senior players - including Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres - another gurelling 90 minutes ahead of Tuesday's crunch encounter.
Wenger had also decided to rest some of his star names including Emmanuel Adebayor - who is nursing an ankle knock - although the effects were less welcome.
Arsenal struggled to find their fluency and a run of just two wins in 10 games is hardly ideal preparation for their most important game of the season, even if Wenger was anxious to alleviate the pressure on his young squad.
"Of course it is a massive game. Who would say that the quarter-final of the Champions League is not?" he asked. "But I do not like the big statements. We will play our own game on Tuesday night and try to win, give absolutely everything.
"Our season has not been disastrous anyway because people expected us to finish between 10th and 12th at the beginning of the season, so we are beyond expectation.
"But it is true that on Tuesday we have to recover from our disapointment a little bit because there was room there to win the game today."
Benitez, meanwhile, is already bracing himself for the nervy prospect of a penalty shoot-out on Merseyside, even though Liverpool are carrying over a potentially crucial away goal.
"We will have some good players taking penalties, so I do not think we will practice too much," he said.
"You know which players will be good when they are called from the half-way line. It is not just quality: it is to be calm and to know what to do. But we will be trying to use our experience during the game and I hope not go to penalties."