Liverpool left clinging on after Arsenal rally
Arsenal 2 Liverpool 2:Arsenal do not start playing until they are behind.
Theirs has been a wacky, impossible-to-fathom brand of football in recent weeks and a sprint through the emotions seemingly comes as standard during their matches.
Jeered off at half-time, Arsene Wenger’s players won back their home crowd with a stirring fightback that had Liverpool clinging on for a point at the final whistle.
For Liverpool, this had threatened to be a landmark victory, a first triumph over a team in the top half of the Premier League table and a balm for the horror of Sunday’s FA Cup exit at League One Oldham Athletic. Brendan Rodgers’ scathing criticism of his young players at Oldham had been felt by the dressing-room. The response shaped up in positive fashion.
Five in a row
This was the fifth time in succession that Arsenal had trailed in the league and yet they hauled themselves in dramatic fashion, with goals from Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott.
For Arsenal, talk of the lack of January signings – and the prospect that nobody will arrive before the deadline – gave way to 90 minutes of adrenaline. Several of their players slumped to the turf at the final whistle. Despite everything, it felt like an opportunity missed.
It is that time of the season when the margins have become finer and for these teams, this fixture felt like a six-pointer in the fight for a Champions League finish.
Liverpool entered it the angrier, after the Oldham humiliation, but their early lead owed everything to Arsenal blunders that had Wenger steaming in his sleeping bag coat.
He would not have enjoyed seeing such errors over the course of the game, let alone jammed into seconds. The first mistake, ironically, was Liverpool’s, when Suarez miskicked as he sought to find the overlapping Glen Johnson. But Bacary Sagna trumped that when he fell over to allow the full-back through after all.
Johnson crossed, Thomas Vermaelen made a hash of the attempted clearance and Daniel Sturridge forced Wojciech Szczesny to save. Aaron Ramsey, though, still could not clear and when Jordan Henderson passed to Suarez, his shot deflected past Szczesny.
The first half was wild, open and unpredictable. Panic bubbled beneath the surface. As a spectacle, it was gripping.
Szczesny summed things up when he attempted to fox Sturridge with a Cruyff-turn on his own six-yard line, except that the Arsenal goalkeeper got it wrong and only a desperate foot-in spared him from an impossible explanation.
It would get worse for Arsenal before it got better, in the shape of further comic defensive cuts. Henderson, preferred to Joe Allen, powered in between Per Mertesacker and Santos and he would argue he earned the luck that followed.
Ramsey’s tackle on him saw the ball canon off Santos and wrong-foot Szczesny. Henderson read the situation and rolled into the empty net.
In breathless fashion, Arsenal rallied. In the space of five minutes, they not only restored parity, they were within a whisker of leading.
Giroud’s header from Wilshere’s free-kick and Walcott’s thumping finish, after a slick build-up and Giroud’s cushioned lay-off, rocked Liverpool and Walcott nearly floored them when he cracked just wide of the far post.
Rodgers swapped Sturridge for Jose Enrique, a defensive change, as Liverpool sought to dig in, but Arsenal swept forward. Santi Cazorla and Giroud, twice, went close before Suarez almost punished Santos. The drama was unrelenting.