Liverpool is digesting a Premier League draw against Arsenal, which simultaneously feels like a missed opportunity, a just result and an undisguised blessing.
Martin Skrtel scored the game-tying goal seven minutes into second-half stoppage time Sunday, earning the Reds a share of the points against the Gunners at Anfield. Skrtel rescued the Reds in the dying moments of a game they played well enough to win but came perilously close to losing.
It’s hard to overstate the extent of Liverpool’s superiority over Arsenal. The Reds out-passed Arsenal by far, created many more scoring chances and were a constant menace throughout. Manager Brendan Rodgers persisted with the 3-4-3 formation he employed in last weekend’s loss to Manchester United and the midweek win over Bournemouth. The Reds dominated possession and territory through good spacing and sharp passing. Arsenal struggled to recover the ball and retreated into a shell.
Liverpool looked like it would take a deserved lead into the halftime interval after Philippe Coutinho scored a well-taken goal in the 45th minute. It was just rewards for the Brazilian, who had been combining well with fellow attackers Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling and wingbacks Lazar Markovic and Jordan Henderson.
Liverpool’s newly discovered fluidity lifted the home fans at Anfield, but familiar frailties exposed themselves less than two minutes after Coutinho’s goal. Arsenal tied the game when Mathieu Debuchy out-jumped Skrtel and headed a shot past stand-in goalkeeper Brad Jones. Debuchy’s was the latest of a litany of goals Liverpool has conceded from set pieces in 2014-15 (14 in 26 games).
However, the Reds didn’t hang their heads after conceding on the stroke of halftime. Instead, they remained on the front foot in the second half. Coutinho, Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva each missed chances within 20 minutes of the restart.
Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud accidentally stepped on Skrtel’s head in the 53rd minute, causing both a massive head wound and a lengthy stoppage in play. Giroud scored the go-ahead goal 12 minutes later, but Skrtel ultimately played the more pivotal role in the result than the formidable Frenchman.
Liverpool gradually increased its tempo and the pressure on Arsenal after falling behind. Rodgers introduced Fabio Borini into the proceedings and shifted Sterling to a wing-back role. Rickie Lambert came on shortly thereafter, as the Reds were down to just two defenders.
Wojciech Szczesny looked as if he would pull a David de Gea, as he thwarted Liverpool time and time again in the closing stages. Liverpool already had nine shots after Giroud’s goal but didn’t break through until Skrtel thundered home the equalizer on the tenth.
Skrtel epitomized Liverpool’s “never-say-die” attitude. The wounded warrior secured a point, and it was the least Liverpool deserved for its performance.
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The Reds will accept the point against Arsenal, but they also know they must continue improving on recent performances. Liverpool retains high hopes for the season, but history suggests the Reds’ slow start will be costly.
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Borini will miss the Boxing Day game at Burnley after he was dismissed against Arsenal, but Mario Balotelli will return from suspension. The games will come thick and fast over the next 10 days, and Liverpool will need every resource to successfully navigate the festive period.
Thumbnail photo via Twitter/@FIFAcom