Thursday, 31 January 2013

Arsenal 2 Liverpool 2: match report -

Liverpool will also take heart from the reaction to the Oldham humbling, the signs that Pepe Reina is returning to his best form, the signing of the creative Philippe Coutinho from Inter Milan and also by the point itself. Champions League qualification may be a distant dream but they are still only seven points behind fourth-placed Tottenham and heading in the right direction under Rodgers. But as positively as Liverpool attacked in the build-up to their fifth-minute goal, they were indebted to Arsenal defending as grotesque as a row of gargoyles.

When Suárez moved down the left, his pass should still have been picked off but Bacary Sagna slipped. Johnson crossed from the left and this time it was Vermaelen erring, failing to cut out the ball which continued to Sturridge. Wojciech Szczesny did his job, saving the shot, but possession was immediately regained by Liverpool. Henderson simply laid the ball off to Suárez, whose shot deflected in off Mertesacker.

Liverpool threatened on every breakaway. Suárez delivered a majestic diagonal pass over Vermaelen and into the path of Sturridge, whose shot slipped wide. Yet Arsenal had their chances. Reina twice denied Walcott, who constantly tried to shake Arsenal out of their first-half stupor. Giroud shot over.

Agger was doing well at both ends. First he met a Steven Gerrard corner, eluding Szczesny with a determined leap and heading goalwards. Arsenal were fortunate that Lukas Podolski was well-placed on the line. Back down the other end, Agger nipped in front of Giroud to head clear.

Arsenal, for all their uncertainty, kept making chances but first Reina held Giroud's header, then Gerrard blocked a Cazorla shot. Yet Liverpool should have finished the half leading by two but Henderson decided to chip Szczesny and found only the roof of the net. He could have squared the ball to better-placed team-mates.

The second half contained a mix of poor and inspired defending and some superlative attacking. Lucas and Carragher threw themselves in the way of Podolski thunderbolts. Frustration briefly flared in the stands with two Arsenal fans being led out by stewards. The home support's mood darkened further when Henderson glided past Mertesacker and Santos, losing then regaining the ball before scoring with a low shot as Sagna slid in.

The Emirates was turning all querulous but suddenly the team clicked in to gear. Suddenly, they began performing closer to their potential. Wilshere lifted in a free-kick and Giroud exploited momentary hesitancy in the Liverpool defence to head past Reina. One quickly became two, in elegant fashion. Arsenal's equaliser was a gem, a reminder of their smooth-passing, one-touch class. The ball journeyed from Sagna to Cazorla and into Giroud, whose lay-off to Walcott was perfect. The finish was unstoppable from Walcott.

Occasional ugly moments broke up the flow. Gerrard launched himself towards Mertesacker, catching the German, and receiving a booking. Giroud was to the fore again, being denied by Reina, heading over and then diving when moving past Agger. Liverpool could have taken all the points at the death but Szczesny kept out Suárez's shot.

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs (Santos 37); Ramsey, Wilshere; Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski; Giroud.
Subs: Mannone (g), Koscielny, Jenkinson, Diaby, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Booked: Cazorla, Giroud, Mertesacker.
Goals: Giroud 64, Walcott 67.

Liverpool (4-3-3): Reina; Wisdom, Agger, Carragher, Johnson; Henderson, Lucas, Gerrard; Downing, Sturridge (Enrique 71), Suárez. Subs: Jones (g), Skrtel, Allen, Sterling, Shelvey, Borini.
Booked: Gerrard.
Goals: Suárez 5, Henderson 60.
Att: 60,089

Referee: K Friend (Leicestershire).

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