Liverpool survived an incredible Arsenal fightback as Roberto Firmino rescued a thrilling 3-3 draw in a strong contender for the Premier League’s game of the season on Friday.
Philippe Coutinho’s first half opener and Mohamed Salah’s strike after the interval appeared to have put Liverpool on course for an early Christmas present at the Emirates Stadium.
But Arsenal hit back in stunning style with three goals in five minutes from Alexis Sanchez, Granit Xhaka and Mesut Ozil.
There was one last plot twist as Firmino bagged Liverpool’s equaliser to cap a breath-taking clash that was almost as memorable as the Reds’ 4-3 victory over Arsenal in the corresponding fixture last season.
Fourth placed Liverpool remain one point above fifth placed Arsenal after a Christmas cracker that underlined the qualities and problems with two teams who harboured title ambitions in August, but now trail way behind runaway leaders Manchester City.
Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 10 league games, but boss Jurgen Klopp will be kicking himself after his team’s defensive and goalkeeping flaws were exposed again.
Arsenal have now won just one of last five league matches and despite their spirited comeback, manager Arsene Wenger was left to rue age-old problems in his attacking game-plan.
Liverpool, in their lurid orange away kit, suffered an early blow when captain Jordan Henderson limped off injured.
Despite that setback, Klopp could still call on his ‘fab four’ of Coutinho, Salah, Firmino and Sadio Mane.
In sublime form this season, two of that group conjured Liverpool’s 26th minute opener as Arsenal, with Xhaka and Jack Wilshere offering scant protection for their back four, paid the price for a lacklustre start.
James Milner sent Salah surging away down the right flank and when the Egyptian’s cross deflected off Laurent Koscielny, it fell perfectly for Coutinho, who finished his lung-bursting run with a deft header over Petr Cech for his 11th club goal this season.
Klopp’s side should have been two up by half-time, but Firmino curled over and Salah shot too close to Cech.
Salah’s air-kick wasted another Liverpool opportunity and it was no surprise to hear Arsenal booed off at the interval.
– Epic collapse –
Wenger sent on centre-back Shkodran Mustafi for Nacho Monreal, but the fault-lines in Arsenal’s defence were still being exposed.
Salah finally got the goal his enterprising display deserved in the 52nd minute, advancing in the area as Arsenal backed off before slotting a fine finish into the far corner.
Salah’s 21st Liverpool goal this season should have been the knockout blow, but incredibly it was the signal for an epic collapse from the visitors.
Sanchez had been totally anonymous up to that point, but the Arsenal forward sprang to life to reduce the deficit 60 seconds after they fell two behind.
Hector Bellerin swung a cross to the far post and with Liverpool defender Joe Gomez losing concentration, Sanchez nipped in to head home.
It was the spark that Arsenal needed and they were level three minutes later thanks to a Simon Mignolet howler.
When Xhaka took aim from 35 yards, the Arsenal midfielder’s powerful effort appeared to move in the air, but it was still straight at Mignolet, who tried to make a fisted save but instead diverted the ball into the net.
Suddenly, Liverpool were in disarray and Wenger’s men struck again with a majestic move in the 58th minute.
Ozil played the ball into Alexandre Lacazette, then took the French forward’s audacious back-heel in his stride before clipping a sweet finish past Mignolet.
The drama wasn’t over and Liverpool recovered their composure to equalise in the 71st minute.
This time it was Firmino who did the damage, beating Cech from the edge of the area with a stinging shot that the keeper palmed weakly into his own net.
As if that wasn’t enough to scramble the senses, Klopp’s exuberant celebration took him near enough to the Arsenal bench to have irked the hosts, who almost had the last laugh when Ozil’s cross nearly caught out Mignolet.