By Richard Clarke at Anfield
Robin van Persie scored a stunning last-minute volley as Arsenal snatched a crucial victory at Liverpool on Saturday.
The Dutchman powered home his 25th Premier League goal of the campaign as Arsène Wenger’s side became the first team to win at Anfield this season.
The goal was an incredible twist in an unlikely tale. Arsenal were under pressure in the first half and would have gone behind but for Wojciech Szczesny’s wonderful penalty save from Dirk Kuyt.
Laurent Koscielny’s own goal did give the hosts the lead but Arsenal equalised quickly when Van Persie powered home a header from Bacary Sagna’s cross.
Parity did not change the game, Liverpool were still piling on the pressure. At the start of the second half, Arsenal also lost Mikel Arteta and his replacement Abou Diaby to injury. But, this afternoon, Wenger’s side rolled up their sleeves and dug in. They were not at their best but good things happen to enterprising teams who try hard.
Last week’s derby win should have told us everything about Arsenal’s capabilities. Yes, Van Persie's goal was against the tide and 'stolen' but, even when they are under pressure, you should never underestimate Wenger’s men.
This was another massive win for Arsenal.
At his pre-match press conference, the manager had harboured major doubts over the involvement of Van Persie and Thomas Vermaelen after they had played midweek international duty despite feeling the after-effects of Sunday’s win over Tottenham. In the end both started
Alex Song had himself featured for Cameroon in midweek and arrived back so late that his manager had not even seen him when he spoke to the media on Friday. But he started as well.
It meant that this team was the same as the one that had run-in five goals to overwhelm Tottenham last weekend.
However the return of Diaby on the bench was significant. The midfielder had only featured in two games all season.
Last Sunday, while the Arsenal fans were still celebrating that derby win, Steven Gerrard had been lifting the Carling Cup at Wembley.
The Liverpool captain did the same thing just before kick-off this afternoon but he missed the game through injury.
Anfield saw bright sunshine and driving rain just before kick-off. It was kind of fitting given both side’s up-and-down fortunes this term. But the pair came into this game with a warm feeling of success from last weekend.
Liverpool started the better but Arsenal would have the best opportunity in the opening stages.
A long ball over the top caught out the home defence on eight minutes and Walcott’s cross-shot surprised the flat-footed Pepe Reina.
Shortly afterwards, Koscielny slipped under pressure from Luis Suarez and Szczesny had to head the ball clear both from the Uruguayan striker and Stewart Downing’s follow-up.
It was the start of a Liverpool barrage that would only be quelled by some desperate Arsenal defending.
Henderson stole the ball and went hunting forward with Suarez. Only a timely intervention from Kieran Gibbs snuffed out the danger.
Then Sagna hooked the ball clear at the last second as Downing roared through.
Liverpool were cranking up the pressure and that Walcott effort now looked increasingly incongruent.
In the 18th minute, the home side would have the perfect opportunity to take the lead when Szczesny was adjudged to have clipped Suarez on the left of the area.
The keeper was clearly unhappy with the decision but he would redeem himself
First he threw himself to his right to brilliantly block Kuyt’s initial effort. The ball bounced straight back to the Dutchman but Szczesny raced across his line to claw the second effort away.
Surely, the saves of the season for Arsenal.
You felt it might be a crucial moment and immediately Liverpool lapsed into a lull – both on the pitch and off it - for perhaps the first time in the game.
However they would soon be handed the initiative once again. In the 23rd minute, Jordan Henderson found acres of space on the right and sent a low cross to the near post. Koscielny tried to nudge the ball out but he only succeeding in slicing the ball into his own net.
You could not argue that Liverpool deserved their goal. A minute later it was nearly 2-0. Szczesny’s fine save from Henderson flew to Suarez at the far post.
His drive bounced back off the post.
Arsenal were struggling to hold off Liverpool and needed an urgent lift.
It arrived just past the half-hour when Sagna curled in a cross from the right and Van Persie got in front of Jamie Carragher to head home at the near post.
It was a very simple goal but it did not turn the tide.
Liverpool were still on top and might have scored twice before the interval. Five minutes from the whistle, Saurez showed superb skill to dance past three Arsenal defenders before trying to sneak a low shot into the far corner.
Szczesny got down quickly to fingertip the ball behind.
The Polish keeper was Arsenal’s stand-out player of the first half. But he was nearly beaten seconds before the break when Charlie Adam arrowed a low ball across the area and Kuyt’s touch at the near post trickled the ball onto the far upright.
Arsenal cleared the danger and went into the break thankful to be at parity.
The sting was taken out the second half with lengthy stoppage after Downing accidentally collided with Arteta.
The Spaniard came off much the worse and was stretchered off with an oxygen mask strapped to his face. He would end the day in hospital.
Diaby, who had played just 18 minutes of first-team football this season, came on.
The Frenchman force a save with virtually his first touch. Shortly afterwards, Walcott hoisted a hurried effort over the bar.
If anything, the break had affected Liverpool more than Arsenal but they gradually moved through the gears to regain control.
On the hour, Szczesny had claw away Martin Skrtel’s knockdown as Martin Kelly bore down on goal.
In the 69th minute, the full-back should have put his side back in front but he somehow failed to convert Kuyt’s low cross from point-blank range at the far post.
Arsenal were under pressure again but they might have taken the lead when Song fed Gibbs on the left. He found Walcott close the penalty spot. The Englishman’s shot found its way through a crowded area and Reina booted the ball away.
Wenger replaced Yossi Benayoun with Gervinho on the left. It was an attacking change in a game that was becoming increasingly stretched.
Ten minutes from time Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for Diaby and took up an advanced role in central midfield.
By now, the visitors now seemed set on protecting what they had. You could not blame them given the pressure they had been under.
But they were working hard and they fought with guts and character. That allowed a moment of class to steal the points.
As he had so often this season, Song provided a superb assist, lofting a ball into the left-hand channel for the Dutchman.
The angle was acute but Van Persie produced a sidefoot shot that fizzed past Reina at his near post.
The points belonged to Arsenal thanks to another stunning comeback.
Wenger's men have now won their last four Premier League games - the final three having trailed at some point.
The Frenchman is known for the fluency of his side's football but, when on days when that does not happen, you have to rely sheer, undiluted desire to secure your points.
Arsenal had that in abundance at Anfield this afternoon.
- Koscielny Goal!
- Vermaelen Yellow Card
- Arteta 53
- Benayoun 74
- van Persie Goal! Goal!
- Diaby 81 53
- Oxlade-Chamberlain 81
- Gervinho 74
- Jose Enrique
- Spearing 90
- Downing 88
- Carroll 90
- Bellamy 88