A high octane clash between two Premier League heavyweights ended in a 1-1 draw at the Emirates Stadium, with Alexandre Lacazette’s late equaliser cancelling out James Milner’s opener.
Liverpool were denied an initial goal by the most slender of margins when Roberto Firmino struck the post and allowed Sadio Mane to tap in, but the Senegalese was deemed offside – perhaps controversially – by the assistant referee.
The Reds had another massive chance minutes later as Virgil van Dijk found himself in a centre-forward’s situation with time in the box to control and pick his spot, but Bernd Leno was off his line quickly to smother the shot and the Arsenal defence managed to clear.
Half chances fell to the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan for the hosts as the backing of the Emirates Stadium faithful spurred them on to what was a tremendous first half performance.
Lacazette came close in the 39th minute when Mesut Ozil flicked him through but his low shot fizzed just past the post. A minute later it was his turn to have a goal waved away, as Shkodran Mustafi was in an offside position when he headed the ball for the Frenchman to prod home.
Van Dijk was in the thick of the action again on the stroke of half-time, when his header evaded an onrushing Leno and bounced seemingly in slow motion into the upright, culminating what was a pulsating first 45 minutes.
Liverpool took the lead largely against the run of play when Mane got in behind the defence, resulting in his ball across the box being diverted to the feet of James Milner, who had time to fire in his 50th Premier League goal.
The Gunners, however, had the goal they deserved to celebrated eight minutes from time when Lacazette found space behind Liverpool’s defensive line, evaded an out coming Alisson and curled the ball exquisitely into the far corner.
Arsenal are relevant
It was match commentator Peter Drury that said it, but the whole footballing world surely knows it and is taking notice of the football that Unai Emery has Arsenal playing this season, putting them back on the map at the top of the English game.
Now 14 games in all competitions without tasting defeat, the Gunners have a renewed sense of belief and hope noticeably flowing through the fans, with the Emirates rocking from start to finish in support of their team.
On the pitch they were tremendous, with Ozil pulling the strings, Aubameyang and Lacazette putting hearts in mouths in the Liverpool defence, and Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira holding down the midfield with a dogged display.
Someone who may not get much of the attention, however, is young centre-half Rob Holding, who had a superb game at the heart of the defence, thwarting attempted through balls or runs from Liverpool’s creative players on more than one occasion.
After somewhat stagnating under the guidance of legendary manager Arsene Wenger in recent seasons, Arsenal have bombarded their way back into contention at the top of the Premier League table.
Draws not quite enough
Liverpool have now played four of the other five ‘big six’ clubs, and have drawn three of them with their only victory coming at Wembley against Spurs.
Although three of these four fixtures have been away from home, a hindrance to any recent Liverpool title challenges or pursuits of success has often been the striking amount of draws compared with the others at the top.
In fact last season, one would have to look all the way down the table to 15th placed Brighton to find the first team that drew more times than the Reds, whose 12 stalemates were an equal third highest, and they already have just one less (three) than Southampton’s league high of four.
The importance of turning one point into three in a title fight is paramount, especially from winning positions late on against quality opposition. Liverpool could have been seven points clear of Arsenal and with a healthy amount of breathing space, but one slip up later down the line will invite Arsenal to catch them up.
Jurgen Klopp’s side had the better of the chances in front of goal with van Dijk and Firmino coming particularly close, but on the general flow of play they lacked the incision and the quality to have truly been worthy of taking all three points.
However, still unbeaten and grinding out results when not playing at their best, Liverpool continue to catch the eye and find themselves at the top of the table, with a maximum of two points possibly separating them from Manchester City should they win their game later in the weekend.
Liverpool’s unsung hero
50 Premier League goals is no easy feat, especially for a midfielder, and even more so for a midfielder of Milner’s type, which is not necessarily to join in the attacking phases of play.
He took his goal very well, with a great deal of composure, and his teammates’ performance ensured that incredibly, he still has never lost a Premier League game in which he has scored.
Naturally, when all is said and done he will not be considered alongside the Steven Gerrard’s, the Frank Lampard’s and the Paul Scholes’ in Premier League history, yet he is not far off being worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as those players.
He may not have the individual accolades and statistics of that calibre, of player, but in terms of attitude, work rate, leadership and professionalism, Milner will go down as one of the most consummate professionals to have laced up their boots in this league.
Now in his fourth season with Liverpool, his importance to the side – being vice-captain as well – continues to grow as he proves himself as a key member of their title push.