June 6, 2023


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Firmino’s late leveller opens title race wide

3 min read

Liverpool recovered from a two-goal deficit to hold Premier League-leading Arsenal to a 2-2 draw in a breathless encounter on Merseyside on Sunday afternoon.

First-half goals from Arsenal’s Brazilian Gabriels, Martinelli and Jesus, gave the visitors a heartily deserved advantage. Yet, the hosts recovered to claim a point through Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino in the 87th minute – though that tells very little of an enthralling story of a contest.

Mikel Arteta reverently likened Anfield to a ‘jungle’ before the match and Jurgen Klopp underlined the theme when detailing his side’s out-of-possession approach. “When they have the ball,” Klopp urged, “we have to be like animals.”

Andy Robertson misinterpreted the brief, dallying like a rabbit in headlights. Caught between jumping out to press Bukayo Saka – a proactive move which cost him so dearly against Manchester City last weekend – and holding his position, Robertson did neither, allowing Arsenal’s fleet-footed forward to weave infield. The ball ricocheted fortuitously to Gabriel Martinelli who took it in his stride, holding off Ibrahima Konate, skipping beyond Trent Alexander-Arnold and gently prodding beyond Alisson for an eighth-minute opener.

After so much talk of Anfield’s crushing atmosphere, Arsenal silenced the stands on Merseyside with a second goal in the first half-hour. If Robertson had been indecisive for Arsenal’s opener, there seemed to be precious little thought at all in Alexander-Arnold’s stationary approach to defending.

Martinelli gleefully scampered into the chasm behind Liverpool’s faltering backline, clipping the ball into the box. Neither Robertson nor Virgil van Dijk bothered marking Gabriel Jesus, leaving the Brazilian to nod Arsenal into a 2-0 lead after 28 minutes.

Liverpool had punctuated Arsenal’s breezy confidence on the ball with a couple of threatening thrusts but the Anfield crowd wasn’t ignited until Granit Xhaka needlessly went nose-to-nose with Alexander-Arnold. In an incendiary burst reminiscent of Arteta’s confrontation with Klopp in November 2021, Liverpool’s players were buoyed by their fans.

Sadio Mane scored within six minutes of that fracas 17 months ago and Mohamed Salah needed less than 60 seconds to ride the wave of reinvigorated enthusiasm on Sunday. Sneaking in at the back post, Salah bundled the ball over the line as Gabriel tried to clear Jordan Henderson’s stabbed effort, setting up a nervy conclusion to the first half for Arsenal.

The Gunners survived until the interval but Liverpool carried their energy into the second half. Arsenal buckled under the pressure within seven minutes of the restart as Rob Holding clumsily felled Diogo Jota amid the maelstrom of a corner.

Arsenal’s most recent title triumph owed plenty to a missed penalty from Ruud van Nistelrooy and Salah duly followed the cyclical passage of history, planting a low spot kick wide of the post – his second miss in as many attempts.

As the clock sluggishly ticked through the second half, Arsenal resisted the urge to sink closer and closer to the Kop baying for blood behind Aaron Ramsdale’s goal. Yet, Arteta wasn’t convinced, tossing on a third centre-back in the form of the inexperienced Jakub Kiwior for the final ten minutes.

Liverpool almost immediately pierced through Arsenal’s rejigged rearguard but Darwin Nunez fluffed a one-on-one with a typically unconvincing stab. Roberto Firmino was not so wasteful against his favourite opponents. Alexander-Arnold slipped the ball between Oleksandr Zinchenko’s legs before standing up a cross for Firmino to nod in with three minutes remaining.

There was still plenty of time for more drama as Ramsdale produced a pair of miraculous saves deep into stoppage time, tipping away Salah’s late effort before rebuffing Konate from point-blank range.

Arsenal’s lead at the summit stands at just six points, putting the title back into Manchester City’s hands ahead of a feted showdown between the top two later this month.

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