Wow. Previous matches between these two top-flight stalwarts have resulted in a plethora of goals. So fans everywhere hesitantly hoped for an entertaining fixture.
Well, it is safe to say the tradition lives on after this six goal thriller.
Liverpool, the home side, snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat with a late Joe Allen goal. Can Arsenal feel hard done by with a solitary point after looking to be on course for a massive away victory? On the face of things, maybe so, but this match had so many different facets.
Arsenal travelled to Merseyside in good form, with only the Southampton trumping a recent blot on the copybook. Despite many vital players missing through injury, it appeared that Arsene Wenger had juggled his squad well. In regards to rotating his squad, the Gunners Boss brought back Mesut Ozil, Per Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal after they were rested last weekend for the F.A Cup victory over Sunderland. Alex Iwobi, Gabriel and Kieran Gibbs all sat on the bench.
Jurgen Klopp had to make do without Philippe Coutinho, with Adam Lallana taking his spot. He also opted to use Roberto Firmino as the Number nine, with Christian Benteke on the bench and a potential backup plan up Klopp’s sleeve. The affable German had other worries though, chief among them were his central defensive partnership. Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Toure, who both had recent injury niggles, were fit and named in the centre of defence, but Gooners, despite their adoration of their former player, knew that the Ivorian’s best days were behind him. Liverpool had a chink in their armour.
The match started at pace, and it was the home side who took it to their higher placed opponents. With their zippy start, there were echoes of their 5-1 rout two years ago, and after just ten minutes – not quite matching that rapier start of 2013/14 – Klopp’s Reds were ahead.
The Gunners had shown defensive steel in recent weeks but it was their failure to clear which led to a shot from Emre Can. The German had acres of space to take aim and it was a good effort which Petr Cech parried away, but only as far as Roberto Firmino, who turned and despatched the rebound.
Liverpool were in the ascendancy, with a lightning quick start and a goal to the good. It looked like if any team would score next, it would be the home side. However, it was Arsenal who equalised and it was testament to their mettle that they did so.
Joel Campbell, again impressive, had been doing his best Mesut Ozil impression in the last few matches and it was his through ball into the box that a rampaging Aaron Ramsey latched onto. The Welshman, who looks to be hitting his groove after an extended run in his favoured position in the centre, finished well at the near post. He was followed closely by two Liverpool defenders but his initial reaction was quick enough to give him the yard headstart and space that allowed such
a great shot.
The frenetic start continued, and the home fans had a treat in store. It was that man Roberto Firmino again, and seeing as his last goal was seven games ago, a two goal salvo was not expected. His second goal though, was a fantastic effort and a reminder of what he can be capable of.
Picking the ball up about twenty five yards out after many deflections from attempted passes and interceptions, James Milner gives the ball to Firmino, and he has a lot to do. The Brazilian does nothing more than look up and curl a shot into the very top corner, a place that no goalkeeper can obstruct. Petr Cech was helpless and Liverpool had regained the lead.
Klopp’s men had held their first lead for five minutes. Could they hold their second lead any longer? Yes. This time, it took Arsenal six minutes to restore parity.
Jurgen Klopp had been rather vocal about his team’s weakness in dealing with set-plays into their box, and League Two Exeter had visualised his worries beautifully in the weekend in their Third Round F.A Cup tie – a goal scored direct from a corner. It was this malaise that came back to haunt the Reds during this game, with a corner from Aaron Ramsey curling toward goal. On first sight it looked like it took no touches before finding its way into the net, but replays show that Olivier Giroud – who had a staple in his head to stem the bloodflow from an earlier collision – had ghosted his way to his favourite part of the pitch, the front post, and flicked the ball toward Mignolet, who could do no more than bundle the ball in.
2-2, and only twenty five minutes gone.
Mere minutes later, it should have been Arsenal going in at half time with a goal advantage. Joel Campbell again showed great awareness to find Theo Walcott with a pass in the box and Theo’s ball across the box evaded everyone and found its desired target, a sliding Olivier Giroud. He and the ball connected inside the six yard box, and it looked to all intents and purposes that Arsenal had scored. Unfortunately, the Frenchman’s slide was a little more enthusiastic than the flight of the ball, thus Giroud in fact sent the ball sideways rather than give it forward momentum. In plain speak – it was a sitter.
It was Liverpool’s turn to set siege to Arsenal’s defence, and they almost took the lead again. A Jordan Ibe ball was intercepted by a desperate Laurent Koscielny lunge, but the ball found a hat-trick hunting Firmino. He took it with one touch and with the other sent another impressive shot toward goal, only for this to find the top of the bar.
The first half was over, and it was all square. Both sides could have gone in at the break with a lead, but a 2-2 scoreline was perhaps fair.
The second half saw the Gunners begin far brighter, and after ten minutes, Olivier Giroud had given his side the lead. If his missed chance had fans groaning, this had Gooners waxing lyrical about his talents. The goal started with a rapid Hector Bellerin interception, and he carried it forward, before making a dart toward the corner. Before he got there, he slipped the ball to Joel Campbell, who was once more in a prime position to do some damage. His attempted pass deflected to Olivier Giroud – who had a lot of work to do. His back to goal, he performed a Cruyff turn to bamboozle his marker Kolo Toure. this gave him the space to spank in a shot into the far corner which left Mignolet no chance. It was a goal that Aguero, Suarez and Lewandowski would be proud of, yet the much-maligned Frenchman continues to wrack up the goals and criti
cism in equal measure.
Arsenal had the lead but they had to stay on their toes, and Per Mertesacker cleared well from a Jordan Ibe cross. Liverpool had started to look a little out of ideas and the Gunners were dealing well with any threat, but instead of looking to score the fourth, the substitutions whiffed of consolidation. Mikel Arteta was brought on for Mesut Ozil, Gibbs came on for Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced a fantastic Joel Campbell. It invited Liverpool to attack and gave them something to latch onto when they looked a beaten side.
The inevitable happened, but cruelly so, in the dying stages of the game when the maximum points were almost within touching distance.
Klopp had abandoned his aesthitically pleasing style and instead went for all out assault, throwing loan signing Steven Caulker up top, as well as the giant Benteke. Balls were lumped up to them and the peppering eventually told, with fellow substitute Joe Allen running onto a loose ball and just snatching a half volley into the corner of the net.
So many times a last minute goal has broken Gooner hearts at Anfield – perhaps Karma’s way of rebalancing things after the miraculous 2-0 win in 1989 – and this was another which took points from Arsenal when it looked finished.
No more time to kick a ball in anger, and Arsenal remained top of the league, but only on goal difference from Leicester City, who remain contenders.
This result may appear fair to many, but Arsenal will be sorely disappointed to not travel back to The Emirates with maximum points. They had it in their grasp, but with a trip to The Brittania on Sunday before a match versus Chelsea to come, will this result haunt Arsenal, or will they use this as a motivational tool, to remind themselves how far they have come and what is required of them each time they face adversity?
Only the next match will tell. Onward to Stoke, a place where the Gunners haven’t obtained victory in their last five attempts. Time to set that record straight.