- By Phil McNulty
- Football Editor at Anfield
Arsenal failed to follow the law of what Mikel Arteta described as the Anfield ‘jungle’ as his side relinquished significant control in the Premier League title chase in a thrilling draw at Liverpool.
The Gunners boss’s attempts to familiarize his players with the harsh environment at Anfield included coaching his players with the strains of the Liverpool anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as a backing track to practice sessions. training last season.
It all went awry when Arteta got embroiled in a touchline row with counterpart Jurgen Klopp with the scoreline scoreless, with Liverpool and Anfield then exploding in fury and Arsenal crumbling to a 4-0 defeat.
So the rules were clear when they arrived at Anfield hoping to restore an eight-point lead at the top of the table.
Don’t make Liverpool angry. Don’t make Anfield angry.
All was smooth and serene for Arteta’s side as they led 2-0 heading into half-time, with goals from Gabriel Martinelli and Gabriel Jesus faithfully reflecting an outstanding performance thus far. Liverpool were underdog and the only noise at Anfield was from the cheering Arsenal fans and the sound of frustration from the Kop.
And then Granit Xhaka foolishly forgot all the lessons, got involved in a totally pointless flashpoint with Trent Alexander-Arnold, enraging the players of Liverpool and – equally important – Anfield, because he suddenly became the kind frenzied bear pit of this stadium and this crowd feeds on .
Don’t push the bear into the bear pit. Except Xhaka did, with inevitable results.
Mohamed Salah’s goal three minutes before half-time created a second-half siege and what looked like three points for Arsenal became one after Roberto Firmino’s late equalizer, and could easily have been none after a frantic final.
Salah missed the chance to equalize when he failed to hit the target with a penalty for the second time in a row after Rob Holding fouled Diogo Jota.
Suddenly it was Arsenal who hung on, having to show the determination they have shown so often this season, to withstand the pressure as volume levels rose.
Visitors goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, who had kept his side level with a save from Darwin Nunez when clean, was a heroic figure in the final moments as he pulled off a magnificent save from Salah’s fingertips , then miraculously repelled Ibrahima Konate’s grouped effort. from practically on the goal line in the final seconds. Salah even missed a great chance at the far post as Liverpool pushed for the win.
It ended 2-2 and now Manchester City have the power to win the title; six points behind the leaders with one game less and a home game against them to come.
Arsenal endured such relentless misery in recent years at Liverpool, where they haven’t won since 2012, that they may have accepted a point before kick-off even with their exceptional form, but the pain was etched on faces as Firmino got up to go home. .
So, was this point won or two lost?
The answer may only come at the end of the season, but there must be a level of disappointment for Arsenal to have a 2-0 lead and full command, to end up with just one point.
And there is no doubt that Xhaka’s intervention changed the atmosphere and led to the opposing team’s overall loss of discipline for a few crucial minutes before half-time. Everything could have been so different had they entered with the full advantage rather than a reduced advantage.
If Liverpool needed an extra shot it would come from the most unlikely source as referee’s assistant Constantine Hatzidakis appeared to nudge Liverpool defender Andrew Robertson as the teams walked away at mid- time. This was a remarkable incident that is already under review by the Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOL).
Once the dust settled on this incident-filled encounter, there was still so much to admire about Arsenal’s performance as they sailed around Anfield as smooth as silk for the first 40 minutes, previous nightmares here apparently banished from memory.
Martinelli wreaked havoc on Alexander-Arnold’s defensive frailties while Virgil van Dijk again looked nothing like the imperious centre-back who had such a grip on forwards in his pomp.
There is no doubt, however, that it looked like Arsenal allowing a huge psychological victory to slip away from them, such was their great first-half superiority, while Arteta’s late introduction of defender Jakub Kiwior into that hothouse ‘Anfield in place of captain Martin Odegaard raised a few eyebrows.
Arteta’s side have shown an ability to regroup after any perceived setbacks this season, showing a character and resilience that many have doubted in the past and ultimately it was a game they could have lost which would have was a devastating blow.
Ramsdale was cheered by Arsenal fans, relieved to have survived with a point, after the final whistle.
The Gunners still have that game at Manchester City as well as a test trip to Newcastle United ahead – and now they have to hope that the manner in which they wasted such an authoritative position at Anfield doesn’t come back to haunt them.
#Arsenal #push #bear #cede #control #title #race #BBC #Sport