By Richard Clarke
Cesc Fabregas scored with 10 minutes remaining to secure a point at Liverpool on Sunday and take Arsenal back to the top of the Premier League.
Arsène Wenger's side had trailed since the seventh minute when Steven Gerrard rifled a free-kick through the visitors' wall and past Manuel Almunia.
This game had already been billed as a massive mid-term examination of Arsenal's studious young outfit. But although they responded with a wonderfully mature performance, even Wenger himself would have been shifting nervously in his seat before Fabregas raced on to a through-ball from the excellent Alex Hleb to equalise.
The draw halted that superb run of 12 straight wins but it did extend Arsenal's unbeaten run to 23 games over this season and last.
They return to the top by the narrowest of margins - goals scored - and second-place Manchester United come to Emirates Stadium next Saturday.
It was perhaps a mild surprise to see Wenger dispense with Theo Walcott from his starting line-up this afternoon. The 18-year-old had struck twice in the 7-0 over Slavia Prague in midweek but he was consigned to the bench as the Frenchman brought back Tomas Rosicky. It was the only change in personnel. However there was positional Alex Hleb was pushed up in support of Emmanuel Adebayor.
Liverpool had lost in midweek and, though unbeaten in the Premier League, had struggled to register wins at Anfield. Perhaps that is why Rafa Benitez opted for three strikers - Andriy Voronin, Fernando Torres and Dirk Kuyt.
This had been billed as Arsenal's first big test of the season. Despite their differing form, Liverpool at Anfield is always one of the sternest examinations of the campaign.
And this one got a whole heap tougher after six minutes when the home side took the lead.
The move started when Gerrard robbed Flamini on the right. Alonso fed the ball back to the England midfielder who fired low across goal. Almunia stretched his huge frame to turn the ball aside but it was quickly recycled to Alonso on the edge of the area. Fabregas clipped his compatriot as he tried to flick the ball through. Gerrard stepped up to hammer the free-kick through the wall and into the Arsenal net.
A body blow so early in the game.
The visitors came back with Hleb 's drive wide after Fabregas' free-kick was scrambled away then, in the 17th minute, Pepe Reina rushed out to deny Adebayor after a sweeping move down the right.
The keeper was a hero on that occasion. But he nearly turned villain two minutes by needlessly rushing out to meet Rosicky as the Arsenal midfielder roared down the left. The Czech international easily lifted the ball over the keeper and Sami Hyypia clipped the ball off the line to Eboue on the far side. Unfortunately the Ivorian's shot was wild.
Arsenal were cranking up the pressure and the Liverpool crowd were voicing their frustrations - despite the scoreline.
That nearly got worse for Arsenal when they failed the clear a corner and Gerrard unleashed a stinging volley from the edge of the area. Almunia spectacularly palmed the ball high over the bar.
It was turning into a stunning game played at blistering pace. Perhaps the both sides were used to Cup football having played two ties in two different competitions on this ground last season.
However, as half time approached, Arsenal's fire faded. Just before the whistle, Adebayor went clear momentarily and his deflected shot looked have wrong-footed Reina but the keeper recovered.
Torres had been anonymous in the first half so it was no surprise the see him replaced by Peter Crouch at the break.
The lanky striker would have the first real chance after the restart when Almunia dived full-length to divert his long-range drive past the post in the 52nd minute.
Seconds later Arsenal would have their best opportunity to go level. Rosicky released Eboue in the right-hand channel and he thumped the ball against the base of the post. It bounced out to Fabregas who opted try and turn the ball into unguarded goal first-time and left-footed. He got in horribly wrong and Arsenal's clearest chance of the game went high and wide.
Just past the hour, Crouch latched onto Voronin's through ball and steered another shot wide. Then Toure hacked the ball away after the leaping Alonso nearly handled the ball over the line. Referee Howard Webb had already blown for the infringement.
Walcott replaced the unlucky Rosicky and joined Adebayor up front for the final quarter of the game. Shortly afterwards Nicklas Bendtner and Gilberto also came on as the visitors switched the 4-2-4.
John Arne Riise sent a dipping effort over the bar but the goal Arsenal deserved was just around the corner. It arrived with 10 minutes to go.
Hleb collected the ball on the left and tapped a wonderfully-weighted ball into the path of Fabregas. The Spaniard had timed his run to perfection and he stabbed the ball past Reina at the near post.
Arsenal might have stolen the points with four minutes left. Fabregas hit the base of the same post Eboue had rattled earlier in the half. Again the ball came out straight to the feet of an white-shirted player. This time Bendtner blazed over.
But almost immediately, the outstretched leg of Gallas prevented Gerrard from roaring through the plant home a winner.
At full time the Arsenal supporters were certainly happier than the home fans. Their side are now officially 'tried and tested' yet they are still top of the table.
Belief will be growing and growing at Emirates Stadium after this performance.
- Toure Yellow Card
- Clichy 74
- Eboue 74
- Fabregas Goal! Yellow Card
- Rosicky 66 Yellow Card
- Walcott 66
- Silva 74
- Bendtner 74
- Carragher Yellow Card
- Mascherano Yellow Card
- Gerrard Goal!
- Alonso 68
- Torres 45
- Voronin 65 Yellow Card
- Arbeloa 68
- Benayoun 65
- Crouch 45