Arsenal foiled at Anfield by last minute Liverpool equaliser
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Arsenal ruined what was a performance full of verve that promised a vital win by conceding a late goal in this incredible match to drop two points – as Liverpool stormed back through the wind and the rain, and the sleet and the snow, to draw 3-3 with Arsene Wenger’s men at a raucous Anfield.
In the week that global music icon David Bowie sadly passed away it was Jurgen Klopp that was under pressure before the game, after his team of absolute beginners narrowly escaped being knocked out by heroes Exeter City on Friday.
But the German made changes from his FA Cup side to face Arsene Wenger’s team. Eleven changes to be precise as he aims to restore the golden years back to this proud, passionate club.
Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Toure returned to bolster the Reds, with loan signing Steven Caulker finding himself on the bench for his new club.
The Gunners saw Per Mertesacker replace Gabriel in their starting line up, with Nacho Monreal coming in for left back Kieran Gibbs – from the North London team’s first eleven that played against Sunderland in the FA Cup third round at The Emirates on Saturday.
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Mathieu Flamini, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil were the other changes that saw Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, Callum Chambers and Alex Iwobi drop to the bench.
Arsenal began the night kicking towards the Kop after the home supporters who were packed into that famous old end gave a rousing rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone – even if the 3,000 travelling fans from London soon reminded their hosts loudly just who was top of the league this week.
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Emre Can soon found himself in something of an oddity – space in the middle of the pitch in the opening exchanges as he intelligently fed Adam Lallana through the middle of the box. The end result was something of a waste as the former Southampton man went to ground far too easily in front of Cech.
Yet the warning was not heeded by Arsenal, as 180 seconds later, in the ninth minute, the creative Can found himself in space again, this time just outside the edge of the left hand side of the box.
He then fired a powerful shot at the visitors goal, which Cech could only parry out to skilful Roberto Firmino.
The Brazilian proved again he has a pair of feet as quick as any in the top flight to leave Cech floundering with a drive that beat the experienced custodian, making it 1-0 to Liverpool in the process.
The goal sent the already vocal Anfield crowd into raptures, and Can, the intelligent German midfielder celebrated wildly with Firminio – no doubt fuelled in part by showing that there was more than one Teutonic playmaker on the pitch.
However in the 14th minute Aaron Ramsey was played in by Joel Campbell – looking ever more impressive as the season wears on – who provided an instinctive through ball after a neat turn.
Yet, if Ramsey was surprised to have found himself unmarked in Simon Mingolet’s box – in what was the Gunners’ real first foray into enemy territory – he didn’t show it, as he shot low and hard inside the Belgian’s left hand post to make it 1-1 with barely 15 minutes gone.
But just five minutes after the league leaders had surprisingly reached parity Firmino netted a superb second.
The former Figueirense and 1899 Hoffenheim midfielder teed himself up 20 yards out and unleashed a curling shot that evaded a despairing Cech dive to make it 2-1 to Klopp’s adventurers before 20 minutes had elapsed.
Ahead of this game, Gareth Roberts, editor of the highly-acclaimed Koppite fanzine The Anfield Wrap passionately asked which Liverpool team would turn up tonight.
Would it be the majestic victors who vanquished Manchester City and Chelsea – or the insipid outfit that lost to Crystal Palace, Newcastle, Watford and West Ham?
We had our answer on a cold and wild Anfield evening under lights as Klopp’s team channelled their manager’s natural exuberance into an impressive attacking performance. However, it was his defence that was to come under scrutiny moments later as Arsenal attacked again during the frenetic start.
The villages where Klopp and Wenger grew up either side of the German French border are only be 66 miles apart, but the gap between these two Premier League heavyweights assembled at Anfield – in terms of attacking instincts and less-than convincing defending – is even shorter, as events were to prove.
There was barely time to draw breath for spectators and players’ alike after Ramsey’s header was cleared off the line by Sakho in a last ditch action as Arsenal equalised from the resulting corner to make it 2-2 on only 26 minutes.
It was the Frenchman Olivier Giroud this time troubling the scorers, as he rose above a clutch of Liverpool defenders to aim his header past a stunned Mingolet and into the net.
Moments later Campbell fed Theo Walcott, positioned in what used to be known as inside right, who whipped the ball into the box, only for the onrushing Giroud to fail to aim his shot at a gaping net when it seemed easier to score.
And when Can fired a shot over Cech’s bar minutes later it was difficult to believe fewer than 30 minutes had elapsed in this incredible game.
It was hardly surprising then that there was a lull in the match after both teams – and spectators – took stock. Yet a quiet period in this fixture – bearing in mind 35 goals had been scored in this pairing in fewer than ten games – means there is still more action than the average league match.
Even if, in the ten minutes before half-time, fans only saw a mere two shots from Campbell, equalled by a couple of attempts by Can – the second of which saw a delightful shot on the turn that bounced off the bar and off for a goal kick.
The fact that referee Jones found time to add three minutes on to the end of the first period suggests he may have been as guilty as anyone of forgetting to check his watch earlier – such was the entertainment on show in this stunning first half that brought back memories of the 4-4 draw here in April 2008.
During the half-time interval Bowie’s Heroes was played – it was a fitting tribute to the players involved in this wonderfully entertaining first half – even while wondering whether former centre half Steve Bould would have agreed.
Immediately from the restart Campbell fed Walcott in the box. The winger fired over the bar but it was clear that attacking intent was still in the game’s DNA.
As the rain started to lash down on this evocative old stadium - which is gearing itself up for a expansionary revamp – it was the home side’s turn to launch an attack, which culminated in James Milner shooting over the bar after more neat interplay between Can and Firmino.
With fewer than five minutes gone in the second period the marauding Walcott found himself in acres of space through the middle.
His surging dribble gave those from London hope that he would replicate that incisive run through Liverpool ranks peopled with the likes of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher in that never-to-be-forgotten Chanmpions League quarter final that the Gunners’ unfortunately lost 4-2, also here in April 2008, a few weeks before Arshavin’s memorable quadruple.
Walcott’s run tonight was far less impressive as his weak shot came to nothing. What was impressive seconds later, in the 51st minute, was Giroud’s quick-witted turn and shot in the Reds’ box to put Arsenal 3-2 up following good work from Wenger’s dashing right back Hector Bellerin.
The untramelled glee with which Giroud and his colleagues celebrated in front of the travelling hordes from North London showed a united purpose – again raising belief it could finally be Arsenal’s turn again to mount a genuine title challenge.
History, certainly, was on Wenger’s side, as his teams have only been beaten twice by Liverpool in the last 17 Premier League fixtures. To borrow another Bowie album title everything appeared to be hunky dory at that stage.
To make that assumption however, was to discount Klopp’s side and their remarkable resilience in a season that has seen his players hamstrung with injuries.
Liverpool continued to attack Arsenal throughout the second 45 minutes, and it was only a last-ditch block by Mertesacker than prevented Lallana from attempting a close range shot which could have seriously tested Cech’s mettle.
As the sleet and snow started to fall the temperature of the crowd rose, buoyed by their team’s increasingly frenetic attacks.
With fewer than ten minutes to go Liverpool pressed again – punctuated only by a delightful Ozil touch that tamed a high ball with his wand of a left foot – and finally, with 89 minutes on the clock the Merseysiders’ equalised through substitute Joe Allen.
His goal which broke Arsenal hearts saw him fire the ball through a crowded box and past the right-hand dive of Cech to send the Kop into ecstasy.
In truth it was little more than the home side deserved – but damningly, the late strike also again raised questions about the solidity of an Arsenal team and their ability to sustain a league title challenge.
As referee Jones blew the final whistle on a rip-roaring game of football – which was less an advertisement for the Premier League as it was an affirmation of the two managers’ attacking principles – it was difficult to tell whether the point Arsenal gained here tonight was a good one or not for Arsene Wenger’s men.
Manchester City’s subsequent draw with Everton at the Etihad may have made the loss of two points less damaging, and Leicester City will never be criticised by Gooners for winning at White Hart Lane – all of which contributed to Wenger’s unexpectedly upbeat demeanour at the post-match press conference.
As for Klopp and his team, and their last-gasp comeback, however, it was clear to the majority of home support in the ground, as the late, great David Bowie sang, that they were heroes.
Simon Mingolet, Nathaniel Clyne, Kolo Toure, James Milner (Benteke 65), Roberto Firmino, Jordan Henderson (c), Mamadou Sakho, Alberto Moreno, Adam Lallana (Caulker 88), Emre Can (Allen 82), Jordon Ibe
Petr Cech, Per Mertesacker (c), Laurent Koscielny, Mesut Ozil (Arteta 87), Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott (Oxlade-Chamberlain 75), Aaron Ramsey, Nacho Monreal, Mathieu Flamini, Hector Bellerin, Joel Campbell (Gibbs 75).
Referee Michael Jones