Martin Skrtel salvages late Liverpool draw against Arsenal
Martin Skrtel scored an equaliser deep into injury time as Liverpool rescued a 2-2 draw against Arsenal.
After a first half that largely failed to ignite, the match sparked into action just before the break. Philippe Coutinho’s neat turn allowed him the space to fire home off the post and give the Reds a deserved lead, but Arsenal hit back instantly when Mathieu Debuchy headed home following a free kick.
Liverpool might have restored their advantage in the second half when Raheem Sterling took the ball around Szczesny — seemingly with the help of his hand — before crossing for Steve Gerrard, but the Reds captain headed over the bar.
Not long afterwards, Olivier Giroud had put Arsenal in front, smashing home from close range after Santi Cazorla’s cut-back.
That looked to have settled it, particularly after Fabio Borini was sent off late on, but Skrtel powered home a header from a corner to ensure the hosts took a deserved share of the spoils.
Arsenal can realistically have few complaints having been completely outplayed in the first half and some of the second but the point undoubtedly meant much more to their visitors, who have now strung together three decent performances in a week.
It may not have been the devastating first 20 minutes seen on this ground back in March when a stunned Gunners found themselves 4-0 down but the first half was probably as well as Liverpool had played all season.
The old fast-paced pressing and tempo had returned led by the unlikely figures of Lazar Markovic and Coutinho, who aside from snapping at the heels of their opponents were providing a much-needed injection of attacking thrust, with the latter an early free-kick which Steven Gerrard could not capitalise from.
Adam Lallana, whose movement was cleverly providing the link between midfield and attack, and Markovic both had chances as Liverpool’s dominance of possession continued to produce opportunities but the former fired over and Wojciech Szczesny denied the latter.
Some of the pre-match billing had centred around comparisons between Alexis Sanchez, the striker Liverpool wanted as a Luis Suarez replacement in the summer, and Raheem Sterling, the man currently being asked to deputise in the injured Daniel Sturridge’s absence, but neither had much impact in the first half.
The threat of Sterling’s pace kept the visitors’ defence on their toes but he had only one real run at them which teed up Markovic to curl over with a first-time shot.
Sanchez, scorer of 14 goals this season, was virtually anonymous but his most significant contribution came when he won and then took the free-kick which led to Arsenal’s equaliser with virtually the last touch of the half.
Liverpool had just gone ahead through Coutinho’s second goal of the season, a richly-deserved effort for both the team and individual.
Giroud gave the ball away to Jordan Henderson who picked out his Brazilian team-mate on the edge of the area and he shifted the ball onto his right foot before firing in off the far post.
That appeared to be that but in added time Debuchy outjumped Skrtel after Mertesacker and Mathieu Flamini, fortunate not to escape a second yellow card for catching Lallana in the face, both won headers from Sanchez’s free-kick.
The delay for a nasty cut to Skrtel’s head caused by the accidental boot of Giroud affected the flow of play early in the second half but the pace picked up again when Szczesny’s ill-advised charge out of goal saw Sterling cross for Gerrard to loop over a diving header.
But while Liverpool were missing their chances there was nothing wrong with Arsenal’s cutting edge and from a counter-attack down their left Giroud exchanged passes with Santi Cazorla to guide a first-time shot through the legs of Brad Jones.
Two efforts on target, two goals scored. It appeared to be a classic snatch-and-grab from Arsenal.
When Szczesny tipped over substitute Fabio Borini’s header and turned aside Sterling’s shot it only further highlighted the host’s previous issues up front.
Borini’s second yellow card for a high challenge on Cazorla, having already been booked for throwing the ball away, just added further insult.
But with two minutes of the additional time remaining Skrtel powered home Lallana’s corner.