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Liverpool And Arsenal Draw As Martin Skrtel Scores In His Own Injury-Time

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LIVERPOOL left “a scar in the heart” of Arsène Wenger on his last visit to Anfield and fresh torment for Arsenal came courtesy of a scar on the head.

Martin Skrtel, bandaged and bloodied from a nasty cut to the cranium, scored a towering header in time added-on for his earlier treatment to earn Brendan Rodgers’ 10 men a merited reprieve. Some scars heal quicker than others.

Arsenal played with the handbrake on, according to their manager, who also believed his team were burdened by the psychological baggage of February’s 5-1 humiliation on this ground.

Liverpool played with the intensity that had been the hallmark of Rodgers’ teams until this season’s rapid reverse, dominated possession and chances created, and refused to go quietly even after Fabio Borini’s late dismissal for two bookable offences. But the points and poor defending at set-pieces were not all the teams shared. The pair continue to find momentum elusive or convince that they can be anything more than dots in the rear-view mirrors of Chelsea and Manchester City.

Wenger’s team were less than three minutes away from healing some of the wounds of 10 months ago and enabling their manager to walk through a train station without fear of confrontation with angry supporters. The result would have been more impressive than their performance, but even that proved beyond them when the conspicuous Skrtel was left unmarked in the area and headed home Adam Lallana’s corner in the 97th minute.

Goals from Mathieu Debuchy and Olivier Giroud, whose boot accidentally cut Skrtel’s head – leading to nine minutes of injury time – were two of Arsenal’s seven attempts on goal. Liverpool had 27, 10 on target. Rodgers’ men also had 65% possession compared to Arsenal’s 35%, their lowest percentage since the statistics began to be recorded in 2003.

The Liverpool manager claimed this was a superior performance to the one that holed Arsenal’s title credentials and affirmed their own in February. That was some exaggeration although, given the predicament Liverpool have found themselves in, any tentative step forward has to be embraced.

A draw ultimately frustrated Arsenal but that they walked off level at the interval was a source of astonishment, even among their delighted travelling contingent. Liverpool dominated from the start, enjoying 79% possession after 17 minutes, but for all of Raheem Sterling’s tireless endeavour at the head of the attack there was a lack of penetration until Philippe Coutinho struck with half-time beckoning. At least Rodgers’ team carried intent. An Arsenal side containing five forwards indicated similar adventure but the reality was imbalance and poor-quality supply to their isolated attack until improvement arrived in the second half.

With Wenger’s options limited by injury and that 5-1, the visitors sought to contain Liverpool in the first half even though only one of their central-midfield trio, Mathieu Flamini, was naturally suited to the task. Flamini received an early booking for a challenge from behind on the influential Coutinho and the benefit of the doubt from the referee Michael Oliver when he caught Lallana in the face with an elbow in the 43rd minute. Anfield bayed for a second yellow card that was not forthcoming but the controversy stirred a previously subdued contest to life.

For all of their first-half control Liverpool’s chances were restricted to a Lallana snap-shot that flew over, a Lazar Markovic effort that Wojciech Szczesny saved with his legs and a first-time curler from the Serb that sailed high over the Arsenal crossbar. Two minutes after Flamini’s reprieve, however, the home side took a deserved lead when Giroud carelessly conceded possession deep inside his own half. Jordan Henderson pounced on the striker’s poor touch and found Coutinho, who side-stepped Debuchy before beating Szczesny with a fine low finish off the inside of the far post.

Liverpool should have seen the half out comfortably given their hold on the game and Arsenal’s non-existent threat. Instead they handed momentum back to their opponents a minute later.

From an Alexis Sánchez free-kick, conceded by Steven Gerrard with a foul on the Chile international, Per Mertesacker won the first header, Flamini the second and Debuchy the third to score beyond Brad Jones via a deflection off the back of Skrtel’s as-yet-undamaged head. Liverpool’s persistent vulnerability at set pieces was graphically underlined.

Level, despite contributing little in the final third, the visitors made the most of Liverpool’s carelessness after the interval with a more incisive display. Shortly after injuring Skrtel, Giroud hurt Liverpool defenders again with the second goal. Kieran Gibbs intercepted a Gerrard pass and sprinted down the left before finding Giroud lurking outside the Liverpool area. The striker released Santi Cazorla to the byline, the Spaniard returned an inviting pass and Giroud converted through Jones’ legs from close range.

Lucas Leiva, Coutinho, Gerrard and Borini all went close to an equaliser for the home side and not even the dismissal of the Italian substitute, for a foul on Cazorla that warranted a second yellow card, disrupted Liverpool’s flow. Skrtel soared through the air to level and spread the pain to Arsenal.

Man of the match Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool) – The Guardian

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