Arsenal welcomed Liverpool to the Emirates in what promised to be a very exciting clash in the 11th round of this seasons Premier League.
The Gunners came into the weekend having displayed admirable form after opening the campaign with defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea. They had linked a run of 11 straight wins in all competitions, before finally drawing against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park last week.
Liverpool were undefeated in the Premier League and shared the top spot in the table with Manchester City, formally second to them on goal-difference.
Arsenal manager Unai Emery couldn’t count on captain Laurent Koscielny who is being gradually integrated into full training after a six-month absence due to an Achilles tendon injury. Fellow centre-backs Kostadinos Mavropanos and Sokratis Papasthatopoulos were also unavailable, as was midfielder Mohamed Elneny. Left-backs Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolašinac were both assessed ahead of the game, and in the end it was the Bosnian who made the team, while the Spaniard missed out. Midfielder Matteo Guendouzi was suspended following a red card in the Carabao Cup in mid-week.
Bernd Leno was between the posts. Rob Holding and Shkodran Mustafi played in front of the goalkeeper, with Kolašinac on the left and Hector Bellerin on the right. Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka were the two deep-sitting midfielders, with Mesut Ozil in front as the No.10, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the left wing and Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the right, while Alexandre Lacazette led the line.
Like Emery, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was also deprived of his captain as Jordan Henderson, along with fellow midfielder Naby Keita, failed to recover in time from a hamstring issue. Former Arsenal player Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is likely to miss the entire season with an ACL injury.
Alisson Becker was in goal, with right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold, left-back Andy Robertson, and centre-backs Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk forming the back four. Fabinho anchored the midfield also comprised of Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner, while the front line was made of the usual trio of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah.
The First Half – Chances
The confidence Arsenal gained through their spell of excellent form was clear to see from the start. It’s fair to say they were the better team in the opening 45 minutes, in a game where the ball traveled fast from one end to the other.
It was the Gunners who seemed more in control and created more chances. They attacked mostly down the left flank where Aubameyang kept giving young Alexander-Arnold much to do, and often got behind him before sending in dangerous crosses. In the 14th minute, the Gabonese almost opened the scoring as his team capitalized on a pass misplaced by Milner, but Alexander-Arnold managed to thwart him that time. Mkhitaryan came even closer just two minutes later as Aubameyang’s cross got Alisson to come out quite needlessly, but the Armenian failed to hit the empty net with his header.
But it was soon Arsenal’s turn to feel lucky at the other end. A nice pass into the box left their defence rooted to the spot. Firmino chipped the ball over Leno and hit the post. Mane was the quickest to react and put the ball in the net, but the linesman raised his flag for offside in what can only be described as a questionable decision. Soon afterwards, van Dijk remained upfront after a corner, and Salah found him with a fantastic pass that got him eye-to-eye with Leno. However, the German shot-stopper made an excellent save.
Arsenal dominated for most of what remained of the opening half, but they couldn’t make it count.
The Second Half – Goals
After the break, the home side continued where they had left off. They pushed hard and attacked, producing some intricate team moves, but the visitors stood firm at the back. But at the other end, Mane and Salah were starting to cause some trouble for their defence.
Arsenal still seemed calmer in possession and better organized as their midfield kept things very tight, but right after the hour mark, Liverpool hit them hard and took the lead.
Mane had broken down the left flank and swung in a cross which Leno parried onto the foot of Milner. The former England international showed all of his vast experience with the way he kept his head and hit the ball just right, not giving Leno time to react.
The Gunners were shocked for a while and Liverpool were finding it easier to breathe in the period following the opening goal, even though Torreira could have equalized within a minute had he kept cool as Milner previously. The Uruguay international was somehow allowed to take the ball a long way, reach the box and take a shot, but the shot reflected his nerves and it was easy for Alisson to deal with.
The changes started in the 68th minute. Naturally, it was Emery who reacted first by introducing Alex Iwobi instead of Mkhitaryan to liven things up. Four minutes later, Aaron Ramsey came on for Aubameyang who had gone very quiet, but between the two substitutions Liverpool almost doubled their lead. Firmino threaded a lovely pass in behind for Salah on the left. The Egyptian did well to avoid offside, then ran down the flank and squared it across for the incoming Mane, but the Senegalese couldn’t get there in time. Arsenal cleared it out for a corner, after which Firmino’s header just missed the target.
Van Dijk came close again with a header of his own soon after Ramsey had come on, but Leno tipped his effort over the bar that time.
But as the contest approached its finale, Arsenal snapped out of their stupor and started attacking again. Firmino made way for Xherdan Shaqiri for Liverpool and Danny Welbeck came on for Kolašinac in a tactical switch by Emery with 10 minutes to go.
Two minutes later, the score was level. Iwobi took the ball forward and sent a good through pass for Lacazette who was making a slightly diagonal run into the box. The pass drew out Alisson, but Lacazette got there first, took a step away from the goal and the goalkeeper, before turning on the spot and firing into the net.
The teams had a chance apiece to snatch the whole prey late on, but first Bellerin’s left-footed effort from the edge of the box just missed the far top corner, and then Salah, as his last contribution to the game, failed to thread the ball between the Arsenal defenders that separated him from the unmarked Mane inside the box.
Arsenal were the team that showed more in this match, but the share of the spoils is far from being an unrealistic result. Liverpool certainly had their moments and chances to win, and the seesaw could have easily swung either way. In any case, it’s reasonably safe to assume both managers will be happy with what their teams showed.
As for the table, this draw now gives Manchester City a chance to pull away from Liverpool and stand alone at the top if they beat Southampton at home on Sunday, and that would also increase the gap between City and Arsenal to six points.
ARSENAL: Leno 7.5, Mustafi 7, Holding 8, Bellerin 7, Kolašinac 7 (81′ Welbeck 7), Torreira 8, Xhaka 7.5, Ozil 7, Mkhitaryan 7 (68′ Iwobi 8), Aubameyang 7.5 (73′ Ramsey 6), Lacazette 8.
LIVERPOOL: Alisson 6.5, van Dijk 8, Gomez 7, Alexander-Arnold 6.5, Robertson 7.5, Fabinho 7.5, Wijnaldum 7, Milner 7.5, Mane 8, Firmino 7.5 (80′ Shaqiri), Salah 7.5 (90′ Matip N/A).
GOALS: Milner 61′, Lacazette 82′.
YELLOW CARDS: Fabinho 52′, Lacazette 83′.
REFEREE: Andre Marriner.
DATE & VENUE: November 3, 2018, the Emirates Stadium.
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