Arsenal 3-3 Liverpool: Early Christmas cracker at the Emirates
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Arsenal drew 3-3 with Liverpool after the game caught fire in the second half.
There was a decent atmosphere inside the Emirates for another Friday evening instalment for one of the biggest fixtures in English – and European football.
It was difficult to tell whether the noise came from anticipation or the fact a large number of fans from both sides has spent the afternoon pleasantly imbibing in the welcoming hostelries of North London.
However for all the talk about goals and ‘countering the counter’ the opening stages were as dull as Liverpool’s away kit was luminous.
The main talking points were Petr Cech making his 100th appearance for Arsenal and Jordan Henderson pulling up in the ninth minute to be replaced shortly afterwards by James Milner.
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But how wrong would people be if they expected the boring exchanges to last.
Whatever you think about Cech he was certainly the most active player on the park having to deal with a number of inswinging crosses. On 22 minutes Roberto Firminio aimed a header low at his near post but the experienced Cech was equal to the task.
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Four minutes later he wasn’t. Liverpool broke down Arsenal’s left. Mo Salah – who has been such a good signing for the Reds – saw his deflected pass/cum shot fly up into the air off Laurent Koscielny and into Philippe Coutinho’s path.
The Brazilian met it catching the arc of the falling ball perfectly to direct a looping header over the former Chelsea keeper and into the net.
It was the least Liverpool deserved after dominating play – with or without possession.
Seven minutes later the visitors from Merseyside nearly made it two through a curling, dipping shot from Firmino which flew millimetres over the bar and onto the roof of the net.
A minute before the break Salah had a shot saved by Cech after Mane’s acrobatic overhead-kick follow-up flew just over the bar, when, if calibrated a couple of inches lower would have been a candidate for goal of the season.
As it was you were left wondering why Arsenal struggle against sides that work so hard pressing while exploiting the counter-attack so efficiently. For wasn’t that the raison d’etre of the Invincibles?
Which leads to the more damming question why hasn’t a Wenger-led side been able to replicate it consistently over the last decade?
Five minutes into the second half Alex Iwobi had arguably the closest shot to goal of an Arsenal play so far. Unfortunately it was at his own goal as an attempt to clear flew narrowly past Cech’s rather than MIgnole’s post.
Liverpool made it 2-0 moments later after Mo Salah after another counter which he started and finished. Running a good 60 yards in the process. Wenger used to get his players to do that. Now they can’t even prevent the opposition from doing so.
However what they are good at is starting to play at 2-0 down. And in the 53rd minute they pulled a goal back after Sanchez aimed a header through Mignolet’s legs.
A full 180 seconds later the Gunners were level after Granit Xhaka restored parity with a swerving, dipping strike from distance through Mignolet. It was a difficult shot to handle but surely the Belgian should have gone with two hands.
Precisely two minutes later Arsenal were ahead after Mesut Ozil made it 3-2 following a driving run and a neat interchange with Lacazette, who teed the ball up perfectly for an onrushing Ozil to lift the ball over Mignolet.
Cue pandemonium. Even if experienced watchers of this fixture were braced for more disappointment and excitement in equal measures.
The fixture stayed true to form as Firmino grabbed an equaliser through a powerful strike which Cech could only parry before the force of the ball propelled it into the net to make it 3-3 with 19 minutes remaining. Salah’s driving running on and off the ball in the build-up was again a delight to watch – if you enjoy skilful players working hard.
We were all set for a grandstand finale – with even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain making an appearance with five minutes to go.
Perhaps it was too much to expect a winner from either side as both teams looked spent in the closing stages.