Brendan Rodgers made seven changes to the side that lost so disappointingly against Oldham Athletic in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Sunday, as Pepe Reina thankfully returned from injury to replace the awful Brad Jones in goal, while Carragher returned to the defence to provide some much needed experience and Steven Gerrard stabilised the midfield alongside the ever improving Henderson and the ever reliable Lucas.
Whereas poor defending cost Liverpool an early opener against Oldham, the exploitation of Arsenal's defensive errors enabled the Reds to break the deadlock after only five minutes had been played. Sagna's slip allowed Johnson to ghost in and cross to Sturridge, whose shot was saved. The ball then fell to Henderson, who set up Suarez. The on-form Uruguyuan saw his strike deflected past Szczesny off Mertesacker.
|22 and counting- Suarez has been in top goalscoring form|
In response, Arsenal piled on the pressure but Liverpool defended surprisingly well, remaining resolute, while Reina, who has had arguably his worst season in a Red shirt, pulled off a couple of top notch saves to deny Theo Walcott, potentially hinting at an improved second half of the season from the Spaniard.
At the other end, Liverpool continued to threaten. Agger headed goalwards twice, the first being cleared off the line by Podolski and the second saved by Szczesny, while Henderson chipped onto the roof of the net as Arsenal's back line remained their fundamental weakness.
With the hosts enjoying 59% of first half possession, Liverpool were unable to play the type of passing game manager Brendan Rodgers normally demands. Nonetheless, the Northern Irishman would have been pleased with the way his side defended well, counter-attacked productively and secured a lead heading into the half time interval.
Soon after the restart, there were penalty shouts at both ends. First, referee Kevin Friend ignored Liverpool's justified appeals for a spot kick after Vermaelen appeared to handle in the box under pressure from Sturridge. Then, Podolski went down easily under a shoulder barge from Wisdom and thankfully a penalty wasn't awarded.
Against the run of play, Henderson doubled Liverpool's lead on the hour mark, magnificently holding off Mertesacker and Santos before benefiting from a ricochet off Ramsey, which allowed him to convert into an empty net.
Had Liverpool held onto their two-goal lead for 10 minutes then Arsenal would probably have become demoralised and they, in all likelihood, would have completed an impressive victory. As it was, the Londoners mounted a remarkable comeback, scoring their first at precisely the right moment, building up momentum for an equaliser.
Only five minutes after Henderson had struck, the unchallenged Giroud headed home Wilshere's free kick. Minutes later, Walcott, who had been linked with a move to Merseyside before putting pen to paper on a new contract at Arsenal, blasted into the corner from a tight angle to turn the game completely upside down.
|Sting in the tail- Walcott's equaliser was hard to take|
It was a piece of good fortune that Liverpool's performance had earned. Had they played with the same intensity and application against Oldham then they would have battered the League One side and put Paul Dickov out of a job. Nevertheless, a draw away to Arsenal should be viewed as one point gained, not two lost, because the Gunners were favourites going into the game, although it's hard to avoid disappointment considering the way the match panned out.
Not good enough. - Mike Humphreys
We looked nervous after they scored one. Can't have that. Need to keep it comfortable. - Dean Nemmer
Disappointment. We seem to have the knack of not killing games off. Frustrating! - Mick Mackay