Liverpool 3 Arsenal 3: Joe Allen may not have been the most lethal of attacking presences on display in a thrilling Anfield encounter but he certainly showed all the necessary composure and prowess in the final minute, his volley earning his team a point and, temporarily at least, halting Arsenal’s title bid.
A long punt into the area by Jordan Henderson was headed down by substitute Christian Benteke for the Welshman to volley home, the final act of an encounter that had seen two Olivier Giroud goals help bring Arsenal back twice from a deficit and place them on the brink of three vital points with a second-half third.
Jurgen Klopp also boasted a two-goal performer, with Roberto Firmino scoring his first Anfield goals, only for Aaron Ramsey and Giroud, with his first, to level the scores within 25 breathtaking minutes.
After the encounter, Allen said: “It was nice to come on and have an influence on the game. Thankfully, we went on and and shared the points. That’s a testament to the characters we’ve got in the dressing room, the attitude of going to the final whistle.
“We had some setbacks in the game. To be ahead and concede some disappointing goals was a shame but we kept at it and thankfully came away with something.
“They came here in great form. They have been strong, everyone knows the threat they pose, and we had to deal with that. It was a good performance, I think. End to end at times and I’m sure it was exciting for everyone to watch.”
The opening to the match, culminating in Firmino’s ninth-minute goal, was a triumph of Klopp’s tactical nous. He had decided to leave out Christian Benteke, the £32.5m forward who clearly has much work to do to convince his manager, instead playing with Firmino as a false nine.
James Milner set up Emre Can for a shot on the edge of the area which Petr Cech could only parry into the path of Firmino who took a controlling touch before burying a tidy finish past the goalkeeper from a dozen yards.
Such is Liverpool’s inconsistency, it should have come as no surprise that it took them four minutes to concede, from Arsenal’s first attack.
It took a poor clearing header from former Gunner Kolo Toure, and an excellent through ball from Joel Campbell, to set up Ramsey whose enterprising run was rewarded as he shot past Simon Mignolet at his near post.
This was a true test for Arsenal
, who maintained parity for just six minutes before Firmino restored the home team’s lead in memorable fashion. Arsenal dealt with clearing a Liverpool attack unconvincingly, the ball breaking for Milner whose short pass was controlled by the Brazilian expertly before he unleashed a magnificent 20-yard right-foot strike into the top corner of Cech’s goal.
It was an enthralling contest, Liverpool pressing high up the field in Klopp’s prescribed manner, and even Arsenal’s fleet-footed, trademark passing game was incapable of relieving the pressure.
The strain was beginning to tell on the visitors’ back four, also. Per Mertesacker, involved in Liverpool’s second, gifted the ball to Milner whose shot was well defended by Hector Bellerin.
But there is a reason that so much doubt exists about this Liverpool team, especially with their injury-depleted form, and, as had been the case in the embarrassing FA Cup draw at Exeter last week, a corner would prove their undoing as Arsenal claimed the game’s fourth goal with just 25 minutes gone.
Mamadou Sakho conceded the corner with a superb goalline clearance that denied Ramsey’s six-yard chip after another excellent through ball from Campbell.
Ramsey’s left-wing corner created the problems for the Reds at the near-post with Giroud ghosting in front of his marker Sakho and putting a decisive touch past Simon Mignolet via a deflection from the goalkeeper’s legs.
It was turning into one of the games of the Premier League season and more drama was to follow just three minutes later when a sublime Arsenal move — Campbell to Theo Walcott for a low cross into the six-yard area — ended with the unmarked Giroud sliding in towards an open net and somehow steering the ball backwards away from goal.
A dangerous Firmino cross was well saved by Cech, Walcott had a promising shot deflected behind, and man of the half Firmino saw a magnificent shot from Jordan Ibe’s cross strike the bar.
Whatever the managers had to say at the interval, it did little to lessen the attacking enthusiasm. Within a minute of the restart, Campbell and Alberto Moreno had flashed shots wide from the far post, while Walcott carried the ball and dragged a shot wide.
It was no susprise that Arsenal and Giroud claimed the game’s fifth goal after just 54 minutes as Bellerin’s swift surge down the right fed Campbell. He picked out Giroud who swivelled and sent a shot flying past Mignolet from the penalty spot.
As an Anfield deluge turned to sleet, Klopp threw on Benteke, a move which saw his side regain control, with Moreno’s long shot deflected behind, Firmino heading just wide, and the substitute himself steering a low shot at Cech.
Mignolet 5; Clyne 6, Toure 5, Sakho 6, Moreno 8; Milner 6 (Benteke 66, 6), Henderson 6, Can 7 (Allen 82); Ibe 7, Firmino 9, Lallana 6 (Caulker 87).
Subs not used:
Ward, Lucas, Smith, Teixeira.
Cech 6; Bellerin 7, Mertesacker 5, Koscielny 6, Monreal 6; Flamini 6, Ramsey 8; Campbell 7 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 75, 6), Ozil 6 (Arteta 86), Walcott 7 (Gibbs 75, 6); Giroud 9.
Subs not used:
Macey, Gabriel, Chambers, Iwobi.
M Jones 8
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