Arsenal 2 Liverpool 2
By David Prentice
LIVERPOOL may still not have beaten a team in the top half of the table this season. But Brendan Rodgers' bruised and battered troops claimed a morale boosting point at one of the most daunting destinations. And for more than an hour of a pulsating clash at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium, it looked like they were going to bury that top-half jinx instyle. The Reds led 2-0 thanks to a fortunate first half strike from Luis Suarez and a stunning second half finish by Jordan Henderson. But the visitors fatally switched off and two goals in three minutes from Lukas Podolsi and Theo Walcott dashed hopes of a famous victory. Manager Rodgers had claimed pre-match his team would find it “easy” to bounce back from Sunday's Cup humiliation at Oldham, because his players were “hurting” so much. It took them precisely four minutes to do just that. But while it was the travelling Kop who were celebrating, the goal had more than an element of Keystone Cops about it from the Arsenal rearguard. Bacary Sagna looked in complete control of Daniel Agger's pass to Glen Johnson, but slipped comically. Johnson's cross should have been cleared by Thomas Vermaelen, but he took a wild air shot to give Daniel Sturridge a chance just six yards out. His shot was blocked by Wojciech Szcesny, the ball rolled to Per Mertesacker who couldn't clear and Henderson teed up Suarez eight yards out. Even then the shot lacked conviction but the ball clipped off Sagna and into the Gunners net. Not that anyone was complaining. If that effort carried a touch of good fortune, there was nothing fortuitous about the chance Suarez carved out for his strike partner six minutes later. The pass from Henderson to Suarez – occupying the left flank role – was good, But Suarez's volleyed outside of the foot pass to Sturridge was sublime. It had weight, accuracy and imagination, but Sturridge's shot didn't carry the same qualities and flew a foot wide. Stung by the visitors' flying start Arsenal enjoyed a spell of prolonged pressure. Olivier Giroud side footed wide after a flowing move, Theo Walcott's attempted curler was tipped wide by Pepe Reina's outstretched fingertips, then Steven Gerrard slid in to heroically stop Lukas Podolski's cross reaching Giroud. But in amongst Arsenal's free-flowing football Liverpool looked ominously dangerous on the counter. In the 27th minute the visitors almost doubled their lead. Daniel Agger got a towering header to Gerrard's corner but Podolski was perfectly positioned to boot off the line. The same duo combined again nine minutes before the break, this time from a free-kick, but while Szczesny dived to save a linesman's flag had already signalled offside. Liverpool were finding plenty of holes in a porous rearguard and two minutes before the break carved another gaping chunk out of the Gunners defence whiuch should really have yielded a second goal. Stewart Downing's pass from the left touchline found Henderson chasing forward in the inside-left channel with Szczesny hopelessly exposed. The keeper raced out to quickly try and close down Henderson who attempted a chip from the edge of the area, only to see the ball drop onto the roof of the net. The half-time interval came at the right time for the flagging home side and they came out for the second period re-energised and ready to take the game to the Reds. But they met a fiercely resistant rearguard. If the defending at Boundary Park three days earlier had been meek, at the Emirates it was mighty. First Lucas and then Jamie Carragher threw themselves in the way of Podolski piledrivers – and the closest Arsenal came was when Walcott escaped at the far post and directed a header just over. The resilience and defensive derring do was rewarded just before the hour when Henderson snatched a stunning second. Sturridge, who had been leading the line almost on his own since the restart, carried the ball forward and prodded it through for the only player to get up and support him, Jordan Henderson. Then whenSturridge slipped the midfielder was left pretty much on his own with three defenders covering. No matter. He cut out two by slipping cleverly between Mertesacker and Santos, held off Ramsey, got the luck he deserved when the ball bounced back to him and prodded the ball past Szczesny. Liverpool celebrated riotously, but the celebrations proved premature. The Gunners drew level with two strikes in the space of three minutes. First Giroud escaped Agger's marking to plant a downwards header past Reina, then more slackness in the Reds rearguard gave Walcott an opening and he thundered an angled finish past the exposed keeper. From scenting a first victory over a top six side this season, Liverpool had to think about hanging on for a point, and with 20 minutes remaining the tiring Sturridge was replaced by fit again defender Jose Enrique. A typical Arsenal counter, conducted at breakneck speed from a Liverpool corner, saw Santi Cazorla fizz a shot across the face of the Reds box, then Reina had to dive full length to his right to push a Giroud daisy cutter around the post. Henderson's astonishing engine kept him urging his team forward and he started a move which ended with Downing cutting a cross back for Suarez to fire over. Suarez went even closer with 30 seconds left, Szczesny plunging to his right to parry a goalbound strike from the Uruguayan. But a rousing chorus of Walk On from the travelling fans showed that they appreciated what had been a hard earned point and restored pride at Anfield.ARSENAL (4-2-3-1): Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs (Santos 36); Wilshere, Ramsey; Walcott, Cazorla, Giroud; Podolski.Unused subs: Diaby, Koscielny, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mannone,Jenkinson.LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): Reina; Wisdom, Carragher, Agger, Johnson; Henderson, Lucas, Gerrard; Downing, Suarez, Sturridge (Enrique 70).Unused subs: Jones, Allen, Borini, Sterling, Shelvey, Skrtel.Referee: Kevin Friend.Bookings: Cazorla (19 mins), Gerrard.(73), Giroud (84), Mertesacker (90).GOALS: Suarez (4 mins) 0-1, Henderson (59) 0-2, Giroud (64) 1-2, Walcott (66).Attendance: 60,089.