Liverpool 2 Arsenal 2
The post-match scene of Arsenal devastation said it all. Gabriel Magalhães sank to his knees, Oleksandr Zinchenko held his head in his hands and Mikel Arteta took on the role of counsellor-in-chief as he sought to raise his players physically and emotionally. Arsenal’s sequence of damaging defeats at Liverpool is over, but Manchester City have renewed hope in the title race.
Arsenal were 2-0 up and commanding proceedings after 28 minutes. They let their advantage, at Anfield and over City, slip as Mohamed Salah pulled a goal back before half-time and then missed a second half penalty before Roberto Firmino came off the bench to level in the 87th minute. From an eight-point lead with eight matches to play to a six-point lead with a trip to the Etihad Stadium to come, Arsenal’s post-match frustration was as justified as it was telling. Aaron Ramsdale was outstanding in the face of a second half Liverpool onslaught but a point does little for either the title aspirations of the visitors nor the Champions League qualification hopes of the hosts.
Arteta could not escape the deadweight of Arsenal’s miserable recent history at Anfield. He was part of the last Arsenal team to win here in 2012. It was their confident and incisive performance that enhanced title claims, however, more than any ability to forget the past and ignore the noise surrounding a fixture that has often derailed Arsenal momentum.
A period of silence to mark the 34th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster on April 15th was impeccably observed by everyone inside the stadium before kick off. The visitors were then immediately into their stride, with Gabriel Martinelli ghosting away from Trent Alexander-Arnold in the opening minute and wreaking havoc inside the Liverpool area. Diogo Jota cleared only as far as Granit Xhaka and his low drive was deflected out for an early corner
A bright start became the perfect one when Bukayo Saka made his first impression on the contest. The breakthrough commenced with a Ben White pass up to the England international. Andy Robertson made the slightest slip as he attempted to close down Saka and it was enough to open up a gap for the winger to exploit. An attempted one-two with Martin Ødegaard was intercepted by Virgil van Dijk, whose loose touch fell perfectly for Martinelli as he advanced into the box. Ignoring the presence of several Liverpool defenders as they closed in, the forward was coolness personified as he took one touch before rolling the ball beyond Alisson. It was Martinelli’s seventh goal in his past eight outings and a platform to soothe any anxiety.
Arsenal spent much of the next 20 minutes presenting a convincing case to be considered champions-elect. The visitors sliced through Liverpool’s static midfield and confused defence with ease. To Anfield’s audible dismay, they faced minimal resistance while doing so. There was an intelligence to Arsenal’s distribution, drawing in the Liverpool press before clipping a ball into midfield or sweeping cross-field passes out to the frequently unmarked Saka. Alisson denied Oleksandr Zinchenko at the end of one flowing move while Gabriel Jesus was unable to find the target when stretching to meet Saka’s inviting cross to the far post.
The visitors doubled their lead with a goal that epitomised the swagger in their ranks and the uncertainty within Liverpool’s. Arsenal worked a free-kick through the centre to Xhaka, who released Martinelli into a void where Alexander-Arnold should have been. The goalscorer turned creator, delivering a perfect cross from the left between Van Dijk and Robertson. Jesus rose on Easter Sunday to steer a textbook header inside Alisson’s left hand post.
Liverpool were floundering but far from out of it. Klopp’s team had joy whenever they pressed Arsenal with aggression and organisation. They just did not do so often enough in the first half. The first time Liverpool shut down Arsenal’s escapes routes resulted in Robertson racing behind White on to Fabinho’s floated pass. Robertson had to score. He dragged a low sot inches wide of the far post. Salah also had sight of Ramsdale’s goal when played through by Jordan Henderson. Again, a clear chance was pulled wide of the target.
Arsenal’s composure was as striking as their quality in possession for the opening 40 minutes, which made Xhaka’s idiotic foul on Alexander-Arnold all the more jarring. The supposedly experienced Switzerland midfielder raised an arm into the back of the Liverpool defender to collect one of five yellow cards issued by referee Paul Tierney before the break. Seconds later, with Xhaka’s head gone, Liverpool found a lifeline when Henderson turned Jota’s cross from the by-line across goal and Salah, via an attempted clearance from Gabriel, converted his customary goal against Arsenal at the back post.
Robertson received the fifth booking of the first half after the whistle had blown. Continuing a long-running feud with an assistant referee, the Scotland captain was caught on the chin by the official’s elbow. The assistant referee was fortunate VAR was not in play.
PGMOL has released a statement regarding the incident: “PGMOL is aware of an incident involving assistant referee Constantine Hatzidakis and Liverpool defender Andrew Robertson at half-time during the Liverpool v Arsenal fixture at Anfield. We will review the matter in full once the game has concluded.”
Flashes of intensity and attacking intent from Liverpool were sustained in the second half. The comfort that Arsenal enjoyed when two goals ahead became a distant memory as they clung on to a slender lead and Ramsdale rescued his team time and again.
Liverpool were gifted a glorious opportunity to equalise from the penalty spot when Rob Holding, who otherwise enjoyed a fine game, needlessly caught Jota’s heel while attempting to clear from a corner. Salah opted for precision yet placed his spot kick wide of Ramsdale’s right hand post. It was the Egypt international’s second successive penalty miss and with the Arsenal keeper saving from Darwin Núñez when the substitute was played clean through by Salah, it felt a significant moment in the title race.
Gabriel had one of his own five minutes from time but, completely unmarked at a Saka corner, the defender placed a tame header straight at Alisson. Two minutes later Liverpool had the equaliser that they and Manchester City craved. Alexander-Arnold collected Henderson’s ball down the right and nutmegged Zinchenko too easily before floating a perfect cross to the far post where Firmino broke Ramsdale’s resistance with an emphatic header.
Liverpool should have completed the comeback during six minutes of stoppage time but Salah volleyed over from close range when team-mates were better placed to his left. He then had a deflected shot superbly tipped away from the far corner by Ramsdale who, in the final seconds, somehow prevented Ibrahima Konaté converting Núñez’s knock-down almost on the goalline. – Guardian