Stoppage time goals at the end of both halves were the major talking point of this exciting encounter between two teams that may struggle to find a place back in the top four come the end of the EPL season.
A depleted Arsenal squad trekked to Anfield to take on a Liverpool side that had lost the same amount of games they’ed won. This statistic did little to appease the travelling gunner fans who were fearful of a repeat of last seasons 5-1 demolition by the reds.
Those fears were brought to the forefront with just two mins on the clock, as captain fantastic, Stevie G, fired a shot that whistled past the diving Wojciech Szczesny and just wide. This would be the format for much of the first half, as Arsenal struggled to compose themselves when in possession, this led to constant turnovers by the makeshift midfield of Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla.
The loss of Wilshere, Ozil and Ramsey was clearly apparent, as the Gunners lacked any real creative spark in midfield, and were constantly denied possession thanks to the hard work of Liverpool’s rejuvenated Lucas Leiva and the effervescent Steven Gerrard. This allowed the precocious Coutinho acres of creative space to work his magic and work his magic he did.
On the 45th minute, Coutinho struck a fine effort from outside of the box that beat the despairing Szczesny and found the bottom corner of the net to put Liverpool 1-0 ahead and send the Kop into rapture. However, the singing was short lived however, as 45 seconds later Liverpool failed to clear from an Arsenal corner…Flamini climbed to head the ball back into the path of Debuchy who headed home the equaliser albeit undeserved, to send both teams into the break even.
Arsenal began the second half with gusto, attempting to press the Liverpool defence via long balls, rather than attempt to win the midfield battle. On the 51st minute Girroud accidently put his studs into the back of the sliding Martin Skrtel who cleared the ball from the Frenchman as he was winding up for a shot. Skrtel was bleeding profusely and had to be treated on the pitch, infuriating the Arsenal fans who were beginning to count the minutes that would be added to their Anfield stay. These minutes would later comeback to haunt Arsene Wenger, and the travelling gunner fans.
With Skrtel back on the park, fully treated and head bandaged, the Arsenal players continued to press looking for a winner… and on the 62nd Minute mark Arsenals maestro, Santi Cazorla displayed a passage of creative brilliance to set up Olivier Girroud for his third goal in two games to give Arsenal the lead.
Liverpool’s manager Brendan Rodgers looked to the bench for reinforcements, and decided to replace Fabio Borini for Lazar Markovic. Markovic seemed somewhat displeased by the managers decision, understandably, as many of the Liverpool attacks were coming via the Serbians side of the park.
Liverpool continued to press Arsenal, locking them deep into their defensive third, as the gunners back four continued to invite the pressure by sitting deep. Coutinho, Gerrard and Lallana took advantage of this invitation and all had shots on target only to be stopped by the Arsenal keeper who was getting little help from his team mates. It seemed only matter of time before the Reds would equalise and this prompted Wenger to make some changes of his own.
Arsene Wenger also made a defensive change, he had decided it was time for his side to “dig in” and win ugly and replaced Olivier Girroud with Francis Coquelin, attempting to sure up his lacklustre midfield. This was not typical of Wenger’s tactics this season but was understandable considering the squad that he had on the park, 2-1 up with 10 mins of normal time to play… good move Mr Wenger, or was it?
ENTER: Fabio Borini, within 7 mins, the Italian had 3 shots on target, two saved by Szczesny, picked up a yellow card for slamming the ball after a throw in decision went against him; and then was sent for an early shower in the 92nd Minute for a “Cantona” like flying kick on Santi Cazorla, which left the Spaniard with an exposed nipple from his torn Arsenal top and a lengthy stud mark across his rib cage.
Surely Arsenal couldn’t lose the game from here. 2-1, 93rd Minute, Liverpool down to 10 men… did I mention that there was nine minutes of extra time!?!!?! YES! You’re reading that correctly, nine!
As the seconds rolled into minutes, the tension continued to rise, and on the 97th minute, a failed clearance by the Arsenal defence led to Per Mertasacker sending the ball into row z of the bleachers and out for a corner. Typical defender, “digging in”!
The ten men of Liverpool equalise from their 10th corner! Lallana swings it in from the right and Skrtel rises highest and absolutely belts an unstoppable header into the bottom-left corner! Zonal marking has to be addressed at the next team meeting. Skrtel is renowned for his exceptional heading of the ball, especially when unmarked in the box.
Liverpools equaliser was deserved, they had dominated 90% of the play, but you can’t help but feel for the depleted Arsenal squad who had worked tirelessly to play ugly… to no avail.
Note to Wenger: You shouldn’t pretend to be “Tottenham in disguise”. Play the Arsenal way…always.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good day (or night, depending on when you’re reading).