A 97th minute goal from Martin Skrtel rescued a point for Liverpool against Arsenal after an error-strewn but engrossing 2-2 contest at Anfield. Despite Liverpool being reduced to 10 men minutes earlier after two yellow cards for substitute Fabio Borini, Skrtel rose powerfully to head home Adam Lallana’s corner deep into a lengthy period of injury time necessitated by a nasty gash he received to the head earlier in the half.
It was an eventful day for the Liverpool defender all round. It was his head that had deflected in Mathieu Debuchy’s effort in first-half injury time to pull Arsenal level just moments after Philippe Coutinho had given the home side a much-warranted lead. And Skrtel was badly at fault when Arsenal grabbed the lead in the 64th minute courtesy of Olivier Giroud’s near-post drive. A defeat would have, for the second week running, been immensely frustrating for a Liverpool team that dominated for large spells and had 27 efforts at goal.
Again it was in both boxes that threatened to undermine their improvement elsewhere on the pitch. Missed chances and some woeful defending let an insipid first-half performance from Arsenal off the hook. And when Arsenal improved in the second half, just as against Manchester United in a 3-0 defeat a week ago, Liverpool looked set to emerge without a point. Instead, the contest ended with Arsenal’s own considerable vulnerabilities being exploited as, despite having a man advantage, they allowed Skrtel to get free.
The result still means Arsenal climb above local rivals Tottenham and into sixth place, but they now trail fourth-place West Ham by four points. The point could be crucial for Liverpool in preventing them falling further behind their rivals for a Champions League place. However, a year on from topping the Premier League, they will now spend Christmas day in 10th position, nine points adrift of the top four.
It was a 5-1 destruction of Arsenal in the same fixture last season that kick-started Liverpool’s title charge and there was further evidence that they are finally rediscovering some of that attacking verve. Helped by Brendan Rodgers’ continued use of a 3-4-3 formation and flooding the midfield, Liverpool controlled the opening 45 minutes. Arsenal, who were 4-0 down inside 20 minutes at Anfield last season, appeared petrified of allowing a repeat and coughed up the ball time and again when put under any pressure from their opponents.
Yet what was missing for Liverpool from last season was a cutting edge up front. Despite so much possession and threatening repeatedly, especially down the left, they couldn’t earn a tangible reward. Lazar Markovic summed up Liverpool’s attacking: full of promise but just short of a meaningful end product. Just as it appeared that they would end the first half empty handed, Liverpool went in front. Predictably it was a loose pass by Arsenal that was at the root of the goal. Giroud gave the ball away, Jordan Henderson found Coutinho inside and the Brazilian created shooting space up against a timid Arsenal defense before shooting in off the foot of the post.
Two minutes into stoppage time, though, Arsenal dealt the hosts a painful body blow. Liverpool’s own weak defending was in evidence to lose a succession of aerial contests from a crossed in free-kick and Debuchy rose above Skrtel to get in a header that hit the back of the defender’s head and beat Brad Jones.
Despite that disappointment, Liverpool had chances to go back in front early in the second half. Lucas and Steven Gerrard put efforts over the bar, the second coming about after Raheem Sterling used his hand to get past Wojciech Szczesny on the edge of the area.
Arsenal were enjoying better possession, although still hardly posing a regular forward threat. But they again proved to be the more clinical side to garner the lead. A quick break saw Giroud feed Cazorla down the left and, with all three of Liverpool’s center-backs caught out, the France striker fired a pull-back through the legs of Jones.
Having got in front, Arsenal remained happy to sit back. With Liverpool continuing to miss chances, it looked like they would do enough to see out their sixth win in their last seven matches in all competitions. That certainly appeared to be on the cards when Borini earned two yellow cards in as many minutes, first for dissent and then for a high boot on Santi Cazorla. With his future uncertain heading into the January transfer window, it could prove to be an ignominious last act of his Liverpool career.
It didn’t, though, cost Liverpool the chance of salvaging something from the game. Skrtel, bandaged up after having his head inadvertently trod on by Giroud, came to the rescue and gave Liverpool a result on which Rodgers will hope to build upon heading into the rest of the festive fixtures and toward the second half of a campaign that started so disastrously.