Joe Allen rescues late point for Liverpool in thriller
Roberto Firmino and Olivier Giroud grab two goals each in Anfield draw
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp celebrates after Joe Allen scores the late equaliser in the Premier League game at Anfield. Photograph: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters/Livepic
Liverpool 3 Arsenal 3
Every year, there are certain matches when the team that goes on to win the Premier League can look back upon and identify them as the key moments in the title race, when everything fell into place and they showed all the qualities that champions need. For Arsenal, it had been shaping up to be one of those occasions until that moment, in the 90th minute, when the ball dropped to Joe Allen, Liverpool’s substitute, and he scored the final goal of a wild and enthralling night.
The disappointment for Arsene Wenger’s team was considerable given they had twice fought their way back from going behind during that blitz of four goals in a 15-minute period of the first half. Roberto Firmino scored both of them for Liverpool and Arsenal had needed to show all their competitive courage before Olivier Giroud’s second goal of the night gave them the lead for the first time.
Aaron Ramsey had fired in the first equaliser and Giroud ran the line with great expertise on a night that fell in line with the recent history of these fixtures. The two sides have now accumulated 41 goals between them in their last 10 encounters but, for Arsenal, the last of them was a grievous setback.
Liverpool played as though they were affronted by the pre-match statistic they had never scored fewer goals, 22, after 20 games of any season in their 124-year history. Jürgen Klopp’s men were quick to the ball, moving the ball with speed and confidence and took the lead after 10 minutes when Theo Walcott made the mistake of trying to play the ball out of his own penalty area rather than attempting to clear his lines.
Walcott was suddenly surrounded by players in red, lost the ball and Arsenal were immediately vulnerable. Emre Can had the first shot and, though Petr Cech parried it away, Arsenal’s goalkeeper was unable to divert the ball into a safe position. Firmino seized on the rebound, turned the ball on to his left foot and scored with a low shot that went through Laurent Koscielny’s legs to wrong foot Cech.
Klopp’s men pinned their opponents back throughout those opening exchanges but their problem was in defence where they looked susceptible far too often. Joel Campbell was a difficult opponent for Alberto Moreno and Arsenal’s speed and movement created plenty of other problems during that flurry of first-half goals.
Giroud needed his scalp to be stapled after taking a bang in the build-up to Ramsey’s strike but he was holding his head for entirely different reasons later in the half when he failed to get a clean connection to Walcott’s cross with the goal at his mercy. Mamadou Sakho denied Ramsey a second goal with a header off the goal-line and Giroud’s improvisational flick to make it 2-2, from the resultant corner, was another ordeal for the Liverpool defence. The ball was driven to the near post and Giroud’s deft touch beat Simon Mignolet without any of the home players anticipating the danger.
It was breathless stuff, with both sides playing with a great sense of adventure, and Firmino showing the kind of threat that had been witnessed only sporadically before. Firmino had scored only once in his first 24 appearances since signing from Hoffenheim last summer for €38.5 million but this felt like the night when he introduced himself properly to the Anfield crowd. After 19 minutes, James Milner found the striker in a central position. Firmino was 25 yards out but went for a curler and delivered his shot with just the right amount of bend and pace to put the ball into the top corner of Cech’s net.
The disappointment for Liverpool at half-time was the way they had been pegged back so quickly after both goals. Campbell’s beautifully weighted pass set up Ramsey for Arsenal’s first, four minutes after they had gone behind, and they produced another quick response when Firmino re-established Liverpool’s lead. Wenger cannot have been happy with the number of chances Liverpool created in that period but the night did also tell us something about Arsenal’s competitive courage.
After his early mistake, Walcott seemed determined to leave a favourable impression on the game. Mesut Özil was prominently involved and Giroud can be excused the occasional howler when he scores goals of this refinement.
Ten minutes into the second half, Hector Bellerin raced on to a risky crossfield pass from Mathieu Flamini and beat James Milner in a sprint for the ball. Bellerin kept advancing on the right before cutting the ball inside for Campbell. Giroud had his back to goal but latched on to Campbell’s pass, spun expertly despite the close proximity of a couple of defenders and, on the turn, swept a left-foot shot into the far corner.
Bellerin might not attract the same publicity as some of his opponents but he has played with great distinction and, on the opposite side, the left back Nacho Monreal had another fine game, both in his overlapping runs and the defensive nous that made him an awkward opponent for Jordon Ibe, Liverpool’s right-sided attacker.
Arsenal were defending with great togetherness but Liverpool roused themselves again in the final exchanges and pushed hard for the equaliser in the last 10 minutes before Allen’s volley was taken with great control.