Liverpool hosted Arsenal at fortress Anfield hoping to bridge the gap between themselves and the London outfit but were left empty handed as the Gunners bagged a victory late in the game. The Reds completely dominated the contest, but their lack of incisiveness in front of goal once again came to haunt them. The Reds though were the ones who broke the deadlock as Laurent Koscielny scored an unfortunate own goal in the first half. The lead, however, lasted all of 8 minutes as Robin Van Persie headed home after a pin point cross by Bacary Sagna.
After a prolonged lull where no side was making any significant impact, Liverpool once again started dictating play and were threatening to score the winner. Van Persie, however, showed his class once again as he volleyed Alex Song’s ball into the back of the net late in the game much to the dismay of the Liverpool fans. The defeat brought Liverpool’s 16 game unbeaten run at Anfield to a halt and has perhaps also put a spanner in the works as far as their top four hopes are concerned. Arsenal on the other hand continued their good run in the League and have heaped all the pressure on Chelsea, who have a tricky game against West Brom later today. The victory, however, will be soured by the fact that Mikel Arteta suffered a concussion and had to be taken off while the returning Abou DIaby also limped off late in the game.
After impressing against Cardiff in the final of the Carling Cup, Dirk Kuyt made his way back into the starting lineup for Liverpool, with Andy Carroll making way. Assisting him upfront was Uruguayan hitman Luis Suarez. Meanwhile the midfield comprised of Charlie Adam, with Jay Spearing coming in for the injured Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson operated on the right and Stewart Downing on the left. The defence saw Martin Kelly take Glen Johnson’s place on the right side, with Jose Enrique on the left and Jamie Carragher replacing the also injured Daniel Agger at the centre with Cardiff scorer Martin Skrtel partnering him.
Arsenal meanwhile fielded an unchanged lineup from their North London derby last weekend with Robin van Persie being deemed fit to start the game. Behind him were the trio of Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky and Yossi Benayoun while the midfield saw former Evertonian Mikel Arteta partnering Alex Song. Thomas Vermaelen too managed to make it to the starting eleven with Laurent Koscielny alongside him in defence, while Kieran Gibbs was deployed on the left and Bacary Sagna on the right. Abou Diaby meanwhile made his long awaited return from injury and was afforded a place on the bench.
Liverpool started attacking from the word go and had a couple of corners within the first 3 minutes, although Arsenal defended both quite comfortably. The Gunners for their part were looking threatening, with their midfield in particular looking far superior to Liverpool’s. Walcott had an effort on goal after 8 minutes as he outpaced Enrique following a long ball and shot quickly only for Pepe Reina to make a save.
Szczesny saved the day for the Gunners two minutes later as he came off the line quickly to head the ball away from Suarez, who had found himself through on goal after Koscielny could not clear a long ball. Liverpool then wasted a clear cut chance in the 14th minute as Suarez led a counter and fed Henderson, who instead of shooting decided to pass to Adam, with Arsenal’s defenders eventually intercepting the ball.
Almost immediately Downing was sent clear by Kuyt, but the winger decided to take another touch thereby giving Sagna a chance to steal the ball off him. The Reds though did manage to get a penalty in the 18th minute as Kuyt and Suarez combined inside the box and Szczesny was deemed to have brought the Uruguayan down, although replays suggested that Mark Halsey had been more than generous to the striker. Kuyt stepped up to the spot and saw his effort saved well by Szczesny. The Dutchman tried to volley in the rebound, but it lacked the power and the goalkeeper jumped up to parry it away for a corner, thereby keeping his side on level terms.
The Reds though finally did get their noses in front in 23rd minute as Henderson’s centre was met by Koscielny, who accidentally put it in the back of his own net. The tally could’ve been doubled a minute later as Charlie Adam led a counter and fed Kuyt, who in turn passed to Henderson. The youngster, however, saw his effort saved by Szczesny, while Suarez managed to find the post as he tried to convert the rebound.
Liverpool continued to dominate, but Arsenal managed to equalise against the run of play 8 minutes later as Van Persie got the better of Carragher and headed Sagna’s cross into the back of the net for his 30th goal of the season. •Habitual reckless tackler Jay Spearing meanwhile was lucky to get away with a bad tackle on Rosicky.
Suarez used his guile to get past Vermaelen and in to the box but once again Szczesny managed to make a save to keep his effort out. Towards the end of the half, Liverpool found the woodwork once again as Kuyt’s attempt from Adam’s cross hit the post. The first half was a very familiar one for the Reds as they completely dominated play, but did not have anything to show for it as Halsey blew his whistle for halftime.
The second half did not start well for the Gunners as Mikel Arteta had to be stretchered off the field after Henderson inadvertently caught him on the face with his shoulder. The Gunners did have an able replacement though as Abou Diaby came on for the Spaniard.
After the six minute long break, Arsenal seemed reinvigorated and began to dominate possession with Diaby breathing new life into the midfield. Liverpool meanwhile were struggling to close down Arsenal like they did in the first half and were in turn affording them a lot of space. They, however, did have a chance in the 60th minute as Skrtel’s header following a corner almost found its way to Kelly, although Vermaelen managed to outmuscle the fullback thereby allowing Szczesny to collect the ball.
Another golden chance fell Kelly’s way in the 70th minute as Kuyt delivered an excellent cross inside the box. The fullback had it all to himself at the far post but couldn’t connect properly as the chance went begging. Arsenal had a chance of their own at the other end as Walcott shot after receiving Gibbs’ cross, but Reina somehow managed to keep it out despite the ball taking a deflection.
Downing wasted a chance in the 75th minute as his cross following a quick counter was poor and not even close to Suarez, for whom it was meant. Abou Diaby meanwhile once again suffered an injury and had to be taken off after lasting less than half-an-hour with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain taking his place in an advanced midfield role. The French international showed some excellent touches and added some quality to an otherwise pedestrian Arsenal midfield, but frustratingly for the fans suffered another immediate setback after returning from a 4 month injury lay-off.
Back on the field, Liverpool were finishing the half strongly and seemed on the verge of scoring the all important winning goal, although Arsenal were holding firm at the back. The Reds brought on Craig Bellamy towards the end in order to give themselves an edge upfront, although it was increasingly looking like the game would end in another draw at home.
Van Persie, however, had other ideas as he fired Arsenal ahead in the 93rd minute with a sumptuous volley that beat Reina at the near post, after Song had picked him out with an excellent ball. With only five minutes to go, Liverpool failed to breach Arsenal’s defence as the Gunners ended the match with the all important three points.
Liverpool played well, but their inability to finish off the half chances once again cost them an important victory. They will now travel away to Sunderland on the 10th of February and will hope that they can turn their fortunes around in the league. Arsenal on the other hand were fortuitous to come away with all three points and all the credit will once again go to Robin van Persie, though their young Polish keeper Wojciech Szczesny had an outstanding game too. The Gunners will, however, need a miracle from the Dutchman to overturn the four goal deficit against AC Milan, who they face on the 6th of March at the Emirates.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina, Kelly, Enrique, Skrtel, Carragher, Spearing (Carroll 90’), Adam, Henderson, Downing (Bellamy 88’), Kuyt, Suarez.
Subs: Doni, Bellamy, Shelvey, Coates, Flanagan, Maxi, Carroll.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1):Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Arteta (Diaby 53’, Oxlade-Chamberlain 81’), Song, Rosicky, Walcott, Van Persie, Benayoun (Gervinho 74’).
Subs: Diaby, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Fabianski, Jenkinson, Gervinho, Chamakh, Miquel.
Final Scoreline: Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal (Koscielny 23’ (o.g.), Van Persie 31’, Van Persie 93’)