Liverpool remain undefeated in the Premier League this season after holding Arsenal to a pulsating 0-0 draw last night at the Emirates Stadium last night.
The term “pulsating 0-0” sounds oxymoronic, but it is a term which sums up the game perfectly.
Both teams had a plethora of chances to win the game; Liverpool dominated the first half and Arsenal dominated the second. In fairness, the draw was a fair result for a well-fought battle on a rain-plagued evening in north London.
Liverpool started off the game brightly and they almost took the lead after just three minutes when Philippe Coutinho, who was operating in a wide left role, rattled Peter Cech’s bar with a powerful curling effort after some good work from Christian Benteke down the side of Arsenal’s second-choice central defensive duo of Calum Chambers and Gabriel Paulista.
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After a blistering start from the away side, Arsenal started to cause Liverpool’s backline some problems of their own. With eight minutes on the clock, Aaron Ramsey thought he had given his side the lead after smartly converting a wonderful through ball from Santi Cazorla, the goal, however, was disallowed, wrongly, when Ramsey was judged to be offside; replays showed that the Welshman was in line with Martin Skrtel.
Calum Chambers, who was starting in his preferred centre-back position, almost gifted Liverpool the opener after 14 minutes when he gave the ball away to Coutinho on the edge of Arsenal’s area; luckily for him, Arsenal’s chief destroyer, Frances Coquelin, was on hand to make a strong challenge to deny Coutinho and spare Chamber’s blushes.
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Cech was forced into his first save, on what would be a busy evening for the veteran stopper, after 25 minutes. Chambers, who was making his first start of the season, again gave the ball away to Coutinho, who threaded a neat ball through to James Milner, who saw his low strike smartly saved down low to Cech’s right.
At the other end, Mignolet had yet to make a save in the Liverpool goal. For all their possession, Arsenal’s attacking players, who are usually so fluent and accurate in the final third, were struggling to find the killer pass to break down Liverpool’s resolute defence.
After 39 minutes, Benteke was denied by a brilliant save from Cech, Arsenal’s keeper, though, should not have been given the chance to make the stop from just five yards out. The chance was created by Firmino, who fired a ball across Arsenal’s box from the left-hand side which landed at Benteke’s feet, the Belgian powerhouse chose to go with the side foot rather than power the ball into the roof of the net, and Cech managed to reach the ball to keep his side in the game.
As the half drew to a close, Coutinho produced some magic footwork to evade Hector Bellerin, before curling a lofted shot which looked to be heading into the top corner of Cech’s goal, once again, though, the Arsenal number one was equal to the challenge and he produced a wonderful fingertip save to deny Liverpool’s number ten.
During the first half, Liverpool lead the goal attempts count by 11 efforts to three, and despite having 57% possession, Arsenal had managed just one attempt on target.
The second half marked a monumental shift in the pattern of the game, with Arsenal’s attacking players becoming more and more involved in the game from the half’s opening stages.
Alexis Sanchez is a rare breed of player; his outstanding natural ability runs parallel with his tremendous desire to work hard for his team. On 55 minutes, Sanchez was crowded out on the edge of Liverpool’s box by Firmino and Milner, but rather than give up and leave the dirty work for his teammates, he chased back 60 yards, put in a perfectly timed slide tackle to dispossess Milner and started another attack for his team.
Arsenal, perhaps inspired by the desire of their talismanic Chilean, began to force Liverpool further and further towards their own goal as they continued to search for the opener.
On the hour mark, Sanchez hit the outside of the post from close range after some wonderful build-up play involving Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud. A player of Sanchez’s ability should have finished off the chance, but it seemed like only a matter of time before the home side would be penetrating Liverpool’s backline again.
Arsenal continued to dominate possession, particularly in Liverpool’s defensive third of the pitch, however, they were struggling to force Mignolet into any saves of note. After 70 minutes, though, that all changed when Giroud latched onto a short through ball from Ramsey after yet more neat, incisive build-up play involving Ozil and Bellerin, but the Frenchman lost his footing and his scooped effort was well saved to Mignolet’s right-hand side.
Arsene Wenger’s side enjoyed 79% of the possession in the middle period of the half and continued to push and probe Liverpool’s defence, who were being shielded admirably by James Milner, Lucas Leiva and Emre Can in Liverpool’s midfield.
It took Liverpool until the 81st minute to force Cech into his first notable save of the second half; unsurprisingly, it was Coutinho who forced the save with a powerful drive after more mesmerising footwork against Bellerin.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced the excellent Coquelin after 82 minutes. The 22-year-old England wide-man almost made an instant impact when he delivered a powerful, low cross towards fellow substitute, Theo Walcott, however, Martin Skrtel deflected the ball away for a corner to deny Walcott a simple tap in.
Chamberlain nearly won the game for his side in the dying moments, but Mignolet got down low well to his left to save a well-struck, low drive.
On reflection, a draw was the right result. Liverpool would have been kicking themselves for not taking the lead during the first half when they were on top, however, Arsenal, who amassed 16 goal attempts during the second half, will feel as though they should have taken all three points.
Arsene Wenger was frustrated after the final whistle, he said: "We scored a regular goal that was disallowed, I don't believe I can do something about it. At the end of the day, the referee cancelled out a regular goal. Like it or don't like it, it is a fact."
He later added: "We had chances, but we couldn't finish them off. When you play at home and don't win, people always find problems."
Conversely, Brendan Rodgers was delighted with Liverpool's spirited display, he said: "I thought we were very good. First half, Petr Cech was the man of the match."
He added: "We could have won the game, we could have been losing after the first half."
Arsenal: (4-2-3-1) Cech; Bellerin, Gabriel, Chambers, Monreal; Cazorla, Coquelin; Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez; Giroud.
Liverpool: (4-3-3) Mignolet; Clyne, Skrtel, Lovren, Gomez; Lucas, Can, Milner; Coutinho, Benteke, Firmino.
Man of the match: Petr Cech (Arsenal)