By Rob Kelly at Anfield
Arsenal remain top of the Premier League despite conceding an injury-time equaliser in a thrilling encounter in the snow at Liverpool.
In a dazzling opening to the match, we saw four goals in the space of 25 manic minutes, one shot cleared off the line and a sitter spurned.
The Gunners twice fell behind to goals from the Brazilian Roberto Firmino, but twice showed their mettle as Aaron Ramsey and then Olivier Giroud levelled matters.
The France international then missed a golden opportunity during a frantic opening spell, but more than made up for it after the restart.
Giroud has been in fine form on the road this season, and he claimed his 11th goal in his last 11 away games as he picked the ball up in the area, span away his marker and whipped an unstoppable drive into the far corner.
It was a stunning strike and despite coming relatively early in the second period, it set up an agonising, end-to-end finale as the Gunners sought to see out an unforgettable encounter.
Arsene Wenger’s side were twice indebted to Per Mertesacker, once for clearing off the line as Jordon Ibe found space in the area and again for making a last-ditch block to deny Adam Lallana in the area.
It was a fraught, frenzied finish but as the game entered injury time, Joe Allen fired in a dramatic equaliser for the hosts and the Gunners had to settle for a point.
SETTING THE SCENE
In the build-up to this game, Wenger had spoken of the challenge facing his side in the sort of fixture that typifies English winter football.
With the rain lashing down, and under the floodlights at one of the country’s most iconic stadiums, this was a chance for his side to make a real statement.
While much had been made of Liverpool’s selection issues, Wenger was able to call upon the majority of the side that had won six of their past seven games to establish a lead at the top of the table.
After a brief rest for Saturday’s FA Cup win against Sunderland, the talismanic Mesut Ozil returned to the starting XI, along with Mertesacker, Nacho Monreal, Mathieu Flamini and Ramsey.
Liverpool, meanwhile, opted to start with Firmino as the central striker in a system that worked to such good effect in the win against Manchester City.
This, Wenger admitted, was the first of a three-match spell that, if not quite a decisive point in their season, would at least be “very important”.
A positive result against a rejuvenated Liverpool would certainly underline their credentials - and with 35 goals between these two sides in the past nine fixtures at Anfield, hopes were high for an entertaining affair.
If you are to win at Anfield, it pays to silence the home supporters as quickly as possible - but things did not work out well in that respect for the Gunners.
After a typically frenetic start, the home side started to build up a head of steam and took an early lead when Theo Walcott lost possession outside the area. Emre Can latched on to the loose ball and unleashed a fierce drive that Petr Cech could only parry away, with Firmino on hand to fire in the rebound.
The Gunners needed a quick response, and four minutes later they got it as Giroud won his aerial battle with Mamadou Sakho, with the ball eventually arriving at Joel Campbell’s feet. The Costa Rican kept his composure and slipped a lovely through ball to Ramsey in the area, and the midfielder slotted in at the near post.
It was a blistering start to the game, and it would only get crazier as, within 10 minutes, we saw two more goals and two efforts cleared off the line.
Liverpool were first to push on and were rewarded when Firmino took possession just outside the visitors’ area. There didn’t seem to be any immediate danger, but the Brazilian had other ideas as he took a touch before curling the ball beyond Cech and into the top corner.
It was another blow for the Gunners to absorb, but absorb it they did and they came close to levelling matters when Giroud played Ramsey through on goal, but the Welshman saw his lobbed effort cleared off the line and away for a corner.
Ramsey jogged over to take it and whipped in a fierce ball from the left that Giroud got the slightest of touches to at the near post, diverting it beyond Simon Mignolet and into the net.
The goal silenced the Kop, and within three minutes the Gunners nearly snatched the lead as Campbell found the overlapping Ramsey in the area. The midfielder rolled the ball across the six-yard box but, with the goal gaping, Giroud could not make firm contact and Liverpool were able to clear.
That was the last of the action from a thrilling first half, but there was much to encourage the Gunners at the interval.
Within 30 seconds of the restart, Wenger’s side were back on the front foot as Ozil whipped in a ball from the left and Campbell half-volleyed a tough chance over the bar.
Liverpool came straight back and moments later they had a decent opportunity themselves as James Milner whipped in a ball from the right that Alberto Moreno should have done better with than fire over the bar.
There was no let-up in the action as the game continued to remain curiously open, and Walcott went close after racing through, only to drag his shot wide - but the Gunners were soon in front.
Once again it was Giroud at the heart of it as he collected a loose ball in the Liverpool area, span his marker and unleashed an unstoppable curling shot into the far corner.
It was an outstanding strike - and the France international’s 11th in his last 11 away games. That is some record.
Klopp’s side upped the pressure during an agonising finish to this crazy game, and Mertesacker had to be at his very best to slide in for a last-ditch block as the ball broke to Lallana 10 yards out.
But there was to be one late twist as, with the game entering injury time, Allen crashed the ball through a crowd of players and into the bottom corner.
It was a disappointing end to a game that had offered much to encourage Wenger’s side, but they stay top of the table.
Referee: Mike Jones
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