13th January, 2016
Arsenal had their advantage at the top of the Premier League cut after Joe Allen’s late equaliser gave Liverpool a deserved point in an Anfield thriller.
Olivier Giroud’s second-half strike – his second of the night and 18th of the season – looked to have put the Gunners on course for a crucial victory, but substitute Allen rewarded the hosts for a display bursting with energy and spirit with a low 90th-minute finish.
Roberto Firmino twice gave Liverpool the lead in a breathless first half, the second a spectacular 20-yard drive, but Arsenal took advantage of poor defending from Jurgen Klopp’s side to level through Aaron Ramsey and Giroud.
Giroud also missed an open goal in the first half, while Firmino glanced a shot off the bar in a wide open game.
With 10 minutes remaining, Arsenal’s lead at the top of the table was four points. Yet Robert Huth’s late winner for Leicester City at Tottenham and Allen’s late strike left Arsenal only ahead of the Foxes on goal difference.
-Arsenal pay the price for frailty-
The visitors looked to have finally established supremacy in this topsy-turvy encounter when Giroud turned to put them ahead 10 minutes after the break – but then failed to press home the advantage and paid a heavy price.
And it will be a matter of concern to Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger that on nights like this at places like Anfield, they did not show the necessary ruthlessness to close out a game that was within their grasp.
The Reds deserve great credit for the way they responded to the disappointment of going behind after leading twice – but Arsenal showed no assurance or authority when the pressure mounted in the closing stages and there was an inevitability about Allen’s equaliser.
Arsenal, when they should have been pressuring a desperately poor and under-strength Liverpool defence, instead allowed themselves to be pushed back. This was two points lost and Klopp will be the much happier manager.
-Two sides to Olivier Giroud-
For such a regular goalscorer, Giroud remains a maligned figure by some Arsenal fans who regard him as just short of the highest class – and yet his strike rate speaks eloquently on his behalf.
He showed a poacher’s instinct to touch home his first from Ramsey’s corner then showed good awareness and movement to turn Kolo Toure and score his second.
And yet those who remain unconvinced by Giroud will point to his astonishing first-half miss when he somehow failed to convert Hector Bellerin’s pass from a matter of inches in front of the Kop.
Here, though, he demonstrated again that he will get goals and that is the best answer he can give to those who still doubt the France striker’s pedigree.
-Mignolet on borrowed time-
Liverpool keeper Simom Mignolet is poised to sign a new five-year contract at Anfield and has won the consistent backing of manager Klopp despite his fragile form.
And yet he was once again a very obvious weakness behind a Liverpool defence that was an accident waiting to happen for large portions of this enthralling game.
The 27-year-old Belgian was beaten too easily inside his near post when Ramsey equalised Firmino’s opener, then was hopelessly stranded as Giroud’s faint touch allowed a corner to sneak in. It was desperately poor keeping.
For all Klopp’s public assurances – he would not do otherwise – he must surely be concerned at Mignolet’s obvious frailty, alongside the glaring inadequacy of his deputy Adam Bogdan, as proved by his errors at Watford and Exeter City.
Liverpool have recalled 22-year-old Welsh keeper Danny Ward from a successful loan spell at Aberdeen so he is now in the mix – but Klopp has to consider a more reliable, experienced long-term solution after Mignolet’s latest blunders.