After playing the first 10 Premier League games of the season without a single defeat, it was time for the Reds to travel to London and face Arsenal at the Emirates.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was still without captain Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita in midfield, while former Arsenal player Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remains out for the season.
On the other hand, Unai Emery had a number of issues. Sead Kolašinac was only just passed fit to play, and he had to start as Nacho Monreal wasn’t as lucky. Centre-backs Laurent Koscielny, Sokratis Papasthatopoulos and Kostadinos Mavropanos were also out with injuries, while young midfielder Matteo Guendouzi missed out due to being sent off in their Carabao Cup clash against Blackpool in mid-week.
The First Half
Buoyed by their recent form, Arsenal started the game strong, trying to hit the Reds from the start. Trent showed a bit of nerves when faced with Aubameyang twice in the opening three minutes, but first van Dijk and then the linesman’s flag bailed him out. The former Dortmund striker got through once again straing afterwards and delivered a dangerous ball into the six yards, but Alisson read Lacazette’s intention well.
Liverpool responded then and pushed the Gunners back. Their relentless pressing kept the home side in their half for a while, but Arsenal soon regained their composure and the game became balanced; but it still had a lot of pace.
However, as it progressed, the ball was spending more and more time in Arsenal’s half. Torreira and Xhaka were doing well in their battles with Firmino, who often dropped back to allow space for Salah or Mane.
In the 14th minute, Arsenal had a sudden chance through Aubameyang as Milner lost the ball in midfield and a counterattack sprang alive, but Aubameyang’s shot was deflected out for a corner by Trent.
Two minutes later they had an even better chance. Aubameyang whipped in a good cross towards Mkhitaryan and Alisson needlessly came out, but the Armenian failed to hit the empty net with his header. Liverpool responded quickly again as Firmino’s lob over Leno hit the post and Mane put it in the net, but the flag was raised for offside – a rather questionable decision by the linesman.
In the 22nd minute Salah made mince-meat of Holding on the halfway line and escaped, but Xhaka caught up just in time for a last-ditch tackle.
After Arsenal cleared the ensuing corner, Salah set van Dijk up for a chance with a lovely pass, but Leno did well to prevent the centre-back from scoring. A minute later the German ‘keeper stopped a strong drive from the edge of the box by Robertson. At the other end, Bellerin hit one from long range but missed the target. Five minutes later, Mkhitaryan wasted another opportunity as Alisson parried a Kolašinac cross straight to him.
On the half-hour mark, the Gunners worked up a great team move which ended with Aubameyang’s shot deflected out for a corner. Lacazette sent a good through pass for the Gabonese once again two minutes later, but Alisson was this time spot on as he came out.
It was a tough period for Liverpool. Arsenal were playing some fantastic football, successfully keeping the ball in tight spaces, smartly changing the side of attack and combining short and long passes well. They also made timely runs and read each other’s intentions well.
In the 39th minute, Torreira and Ozil set up Lacazette for a shot from around 10 yards wide on the right, and it went wide of the post by a hair’s width. A minute later, it was their turn to have a goal disallowed. Ozil took a free-kick aiming at Mustafi on the far post, the centre-back squared it across and Lacazette pounced, but the flag was up again.
Then came a couple of minutes when Liverpool went forward again, and the Gunners’ defence had to deal with several crosses in close succession. With less then a minute of the half remaining, van Dijk beat both Holding and Leno to a cross and hit the post.
The Second Half
Arsenal came into the second period with the same drive and commitment level, and they attacked immediately, but as was the case at the start of the game, Liverpool defended well and soon responded. As the home side weaved their clever attacks again, Salah and Mane started giving the Gunners’ defence something to think about.
But it was still Arsenal who seemed more motivated and pushed harder. They had more control in possession and were, as strange as it sounds, better than Liverpool at counter-pressing. Xhaka, and especially Torreira, were very quick to win the ball back whenever Reds tried to move forward.
But right after the hour mark, Liverpool suddenly took the lead. Mane broke down the left and whacked a sharp cross. Leno parried it straight onto the foot of Milner and couldn’t get up in time to stop his shot from the edge of the box.
Torreira came lose to equalizing within a minute as some awkward shifting in Liverpool’s defending allowed him to unchallenged right to the edge of the box, but his effort from there wasn’t very hard for Alisson to deal with.
However, there was a moment of concern for Klopp a minute later as a clash between Gomez and Milner left both players on the ground. Gomez recovered quickly, but Milner needed medical assistance and suffered a nose-bleed. Both players continued playing nonetheless.
With 68 minutes gone, Emery made his first change. Alex Iwobi came on for Mkhitaryan.
The Nigerian hadn’t even started running when Firmino sent a fantastic through pass for Salah. The Egyptian avoided offside and squared it across from the left for the incoming Mane, but Mane couldn’t get there in time. Arsenal threw it out for a corner from which Milner found the head of Firmino and the Brazilian sent it just wide.
Aubemeyang made way for Aaron Ramsey with 18 minutes to go, before some good work by Mane and Robertson earned a corner for the Reds. Salah took it and van Dijk sent it straight under the bar, but Leno tipped it over.
The goal had Arsenal shaken and Liverpool took heart for a while, but the home side started tightening their game as the contest approached its conclusion. With 10 minutes to play, Firmino made way for Xherdan Shaqiri for Liverpool, while Danny Welbeck replaced Kolašinac in a tactical switch by Emery, his last of the game.
But it would be the composure of Alexandre Lacazette was to get joy for the home fans. Minute 82 was running when the French striker managed to keep close control of the ball inside box, draw Alisson off his line and slam it past him.
Arsenal almost turned it completely around with just three minutes to go, but after another well-worked team move, Bellerin just missed the top corner from the edge of the box.
As the five minutes of injury time started, Liverpool attacked for a while with nothing to show for it, and then Fabinho got very lucky to avoid a second booking for stopping Ozil’s run on the counterattack with a clumsy foul from behind.
Salah managed to waste a good opportunity by coming down the right wing and getting his pass for the incoming Mane blocked, and that was his last moment of the game. Joel Matip came on to strengthen the back line.
Arsenal tried to attack again, but Liverpool played it smart, kept their heads and defended well.
Given everything this game gave, it’s fair to say the point was hard-earned for both teams. Arsenal were perhaps the better one for longer spells, but the fact remains Mane’s disallowed first-half goal probably should’ve stood, and despite their numerous team attacks, it took the individual skill of one player to secure that point for them. In the end, both teams and both managers will be happy with the result.
It will, however, give title holders Manchester City a chance to pull away at the top by beating Southampton at the Etihad on Sunday, and that would also increase the gap between Arsenal and City from four to six points. But at the moment, it’s Liverpool at the top with 27 points from 11 games.
Fulham at Anfield is next up in the Premier League, but before that, it’s Red Star at the Rajko Mitić stadium in the Champions League on Tuesday.
We Walk On.