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    Liverpool 3-3 Arsenal Match Report

    A last minute equaliser from Joe Allen earned Liverpool a share of the spoils in a seesaw match that the home side twice led but needed to score a last-gasp leveler to secure the point they so richly deserved. It was a match that was high in both quality and entertainment, with the Reds starting and finishing the stronger team but were matched by a plucky Arsenal side that showed the kind of character befitting of title contenders.

    Liverpool twice found themselves a goal ahead in the opening 20 minutes, with Roberto Firmino scoring his second and third goals of the season to delight a raucous Anfield crowd as well their exuberant manager Jurgen Klopp on the touchline. The Gunners replied rapidly on both occasions and took the lead after 55 minutes thanks to 'Man of the Match' Olivier Giroud's second goal of the game that had threatened to give the visitors all three points. 

    Arsenal did have chances to extend the lead but choose to play on the counter-attack for the final third of the match and were unable to find the pockets of space that had earlier opened up for them on a frequent basis. With both teams making three substitutions, Christian Benteke, Joe Allen and Steven Caulker provided the inspiration for the Reds against an Arsenal side whose attacking potency had been lost with the withdrawal of Joel Campbell, Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil.

    The home side went into the game without an out-and-out centre forward, with Benteke dropped to the bench and Daniel Sturridge still not ready to return from a hamstring injury. Philippe Coutinho was also missing with a hamstring injury, allowing Roberto Firmino the extra responsibility of playing in the 'false 9' position. It was an opportunity he firmly grasped as the home crowd finally saw a performance befitting of the Brazilian's burgeoning reputation that he earned when he scored 25 goals for club and country in the previous two seasons.

    Liverpool began the match as the stronger team and their gegenpressing game smothered the visitors and took away the luxury of them having time and space on the ball. Time and time again, the hosts won the ball back quickly and their high-energy approach was rewarded after only 10 minutes when Roberto Firmino gave his side the lead. 

    Emre Can's high-pressing forced Theo Walcott into losing possession on the edge of his penalty area, starting a move that allowed the German an effort on goal, which was parried just outside the six-yard box by Petr Cech. The rebound fell to Firmino, who drilled the ball clinically through the legs of Laurent Koscielny from 12 yards to beat a motionless Cech. For Arsenal, it must have triggered memories from February 2014, when they endured a similar bombardment in the early stages at Anfield and found themselves 4-0 down after only 20 minutes.

    To the visitors' credit, they responded within minutes of going behind as Aaron Ramsey beat Simon Mignolet at the near post to score his sixth goal of the season for club and country. Joel Campbell was the creator of the goal, expertly taking the ball down before cutting open the Liverpool defence with a impeccably-timed pass that found the run of the Welshman. Ramsey managed to squeeze the ball through the small gap at Mignolet's near post with a first-time strike that ensured that the home side's lead only lasted four minutes.

    Just as it seemed as thought Arsenal had weathered an early Liverpool storm, the hosts side struck again through the inspirational Firmino. The Brazilian controlled James Milner's pass on the edge of the penalty area before curling the ball into the top right-hand corner, past the sprawling dive of Cech. As Anfield erupted once again, the home supporters must have been wondering where the 24-year-old had been for the first half of the season, where he often played second-fiddle to the more consistent Coutinho.

    Arsenal responded quickly once again to going a goal behind when Aaron Ramsey beat the onrushing Mignolet to the ball but his lob was headed over the crossbar by Mamadou Sakho. The respite proved to be short-lived, however, as the visitors once again exploited Mignolet's susceptibility at his near post when Olivier Giroud toe-poked home from Ramsey's resulting corner. It was a goal that once again highlighted Liverpool's defensive vulnerabilities and gave Arsenal the psychological advantage of drawing level for a second time despite being dominated for most of the opening 25 minutes.

    The match suddenly became a much more even contest, with the play moving from end-to-end and both sides having opportunities to take the lead going into the break. Campbell was once again finding holes in the Liverpool back-four and his defence-splitting pass to Theo Walcott created the game's easiest chance for Giroud. With an open net, albeit stretching slightly, the Frenchman somehow managed to steer the ball back across goal as the travelling supporters celebrated at the other end of the stadium. Meanwhile, Roberto Firmino was also unlucky not to give the hosts the lead but his half-volley from 15 yards clipped the top of Petr Cech's crossbar.

    Ten minutes into the second half, Olivier Giroud illustrated exactly why the world class striker that the Arsenal fans have craved for so long may actually be at the club already. He collected Campbell's deflected pass with his back to goal, turned past Kolo Toure and curled a sublime left-footed strike into the bottom left-hand corner to give Arsenal the lead for the first time. It was the Frenchman's 20th goal of the season for club and country and his 76th goal for the club since signing from Montpellier in the summer of 2012.

    Immediately after Giroud's goal, Arsenal took a stranglehold on the match, while the home side appeared to be feeling the effects of the opening 25 minutes in which they set a searing pace that was not maintained thereafter. However, the longer the Gunners went without scoring the crucial fourth goal, the more Liverpool began to reestablish their dominance and they appeared to gain a second wind midway through the second half. As Arsenal were constantly penned back inside their own half and finding fewer opportunities on the counter-attack, it appeared only a matter of time before the home side would score an equaliser.

    With only seconds of normal time remaining, the pressure finally told on the visitors but it wasn't Christian Benteke, nor makeshift centre-forward Steven Caulker who sent the Anfield crowd into delirium. It was Liverpool's other substitute, Joe Allen, who latched on to Benteke's header to score a side-footed volley into the corner of the net from 12 yards. As the snow started to teem down around Anfield, a jubilant Jurgen Klopp sprinted down the touchline to celebrate what must half felt like a winning goal, considering how little time there was remaining in the contest.

    It was arguably the most exciting game of the season so far, with both teams epitomising the way that their managers like football to be played. Although Klopp will not be pleased with the way his side defended at times during the match, he will be the happier manager to come away with a point in a game that seemed to be heading Liverpool's reach early in the second half. The last-gasp equaliser was a reward for the energy and spirit his side showed in the second-half as well as for the electric start they made in the opening 25 minutes.

    Most pleasing for Klopp will be the performance of Roberto Firmino, who is finally starting to look like the £29 million player they signed in the summer and now must find the consistency in his game that has so far eluded him. With injuries to so many of the club's key players, it was important that the likes of Firmino, Emre Can and Jordan Henderson stepped up to the plate in a match of this magnitude and they did just that. When Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge and Martin Skrtel return from injury, there is no reason to suggest that the club can't challenge for a place in the top four with a strong finish to the season.

    There were also plenty of positives for Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger to take away from the match, even though his side were denied the victory that was in their grasp. The character the Gunners showed in twice equalising so soon after falling behind was admirable and in stark contrast to their 5-1 defeat at Anfield two years ago. The performance of Olivier Giroud was also impressive and, providing he stays fit, there is every reason to suggest that he could score the goals to steer Arsenal towards a first title in 12 years.

    The point ensures that Arsenal remain top of the table going into the weekend's games, albeit their lead over Leicester City is due to having a superior goal difference after the Foxes beat Tottenham 1-0 at White Hart Lane. Liverpool stay in 9th position and sit 5 points and 5 positions below Spurs in the final Champions League position. The Reds return to action on Sunday when they entertain Manchester United, while Arsenal face a difficult trip to Stoke City later that afternoon.
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    Item Reviewed: Liverpool 3-3 Arsenal Match Report Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Richard Tufft
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