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Heroic Martin Skrtel to the rescue for Liverpool


Cut above: Skrtel heads Liverpool equaliser

Cut above: Skrtel heads Liverpool equaliser

Getty Images

Olivier Giroud

Olivier Giroud

Getty Images


Cut above: Skrtel heads Liverpool equaliser

As centre-half heroics go it was a textbook afternoon for Martin Skrtel: blood wound to the head, lengthy treatment ensuing, major bandaging and then, more than six minutes into injury-time, a thumping header to earn a point for his side when they needed it the most. What it did for Brendan Rodgers' season will have been well worth the headache.

Liverpool needed something to make them believe that not everything they touched was destined to collapse. This was not a calamitous performance, far from it, but as the game entered nine minutes of time added on, and the home side trailing 2-1, it was shaping up to be a calamitous result for Liverpool.

As for Arsenal, this was a post-Christmas party performance; the kind of club Christmas party Tony Adams used to organise before the days of Arsene Wenger.

Befuddled and directionless in midfield Arsenal sleepwalked through the first half and mysteriously found themselves level at the break with an equaliser from Mathieu Debuchy after Philippe Coutinho has scored Liverpool's first on 44 minutes. It had been Arsenal's only attempt on goal at that point. Their second, from Olivier Giroud on 64 minutes gave them a 2-1 lead and when the game went into the extensive injury-time, there was a chance that the away team might pinch all three points. As robberies go it would have been only slightly less heinous than taking the Christmas tree and all the presents.

Rodgers' team, for all their defensive weaknesses, at least looked like a side trying to put together a performance. At times it was hard to know exactly what Arsenal were up to. They could barely pass the ball in the first half and overall mustered just three shots on goal and 35 per cent possession.

This is not the Arsenal that Wenger has spent his life trying to build and his suggestion that "bad memories" of last season's 5-1 defeat in the same fixture had played their part was bizarre.

In the end, Liverpool, who had the substitute Fabio Borini sent off for two yellow cards, got less than they deserved and Arsenal a great deal more.

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Yet it was Rodgers who looked the happier of the two managers. His description of his side as "brilliant" might have been pushing it somewhat but you could see what he was trying to do. He needs the confidence of this team, up to tenth place now, to return if they are to have any chance of challenging for the top four again.

The game was controlled by Steven Gerrard in front of the back four, and in front of him the likes of Raheem Sterling, Coutinho and Lazar Markovic reprised the pressing game that is so crucial to Rodgers' philosophy.

As for Wenger he picked five attacking players and a defence protected by Mathieu Flamini, and they rarely looked coherent.

Nevertheless it was shaping up to be another afternoon of broken dreams for Liverpool when, on 90 minutes, Borini, the recipient of two bookings, ran down the tunnel having come on just 17 minutes earlier.

His first booking was a needless throwing of the ball in anger. His second was for a raised boot on Alexis Sanchez. More than anything, the Italian just looked embarrassed.

In the first half in particular, Arsenal seemed outnumbered everywhere apart from in defence where, it should be said, Sterling was kept corralled. Danny Welbeck tried to lead the way by applying some sort of pressure, urging his team-mates to do the same, as he could not do it alone. Rodgers' team passed their way through the away side's ragged midfield in which Arsenal's low quality of passing had to be seen to be believed.

A nadir came three minutes from half-time when Debuchy, looked up and calmly passed the ball into touch. It said everything about the way Arsenal had played. They were a team that did not look like they had much of a plan.

There were some moments of promise from Markovic, the slow-burn £20m Serbian whom Rodgers is clearly desperate will succeed as a signing. It was the Brazilian Coutinho who scored the goal on 44 minutes, taking the ball from Jordan Henderson from the right and, with Debuchy standing off him, struck a right foot shot across Wojciech Szczesny and in off the post.

It was as much as Liverpool deserved at that point, but Rodgers has become accustomed to getting less than he has hoped for in recent months. So it was that referee Michael Oliver awarded a soft free-kick against Gerrard on the right side for a foul on Alexis Sanchez, whom the Liverpool manager would later accuse of diving to win the ball. From the free-kick, Arsenal equalised.

Liverpool missed their first opportunity to clear when Per Mertesacker got to the initial Sanchez free-kick. When the ball dropped to Mathieu Flamini he headed it towards the back post and Debuchy, came in behind Skrtel to head the ball past Brad Jones.

Liverpool had chances at the start of the second half, most notably a header from Gerrard that went over. Then came the second Arsenal goal, well worked but hardly unstoppable. Kieran Gibbs broke forward and picked out Giroud who snapped the ball back out to Santi Cazorla on the left. Mamadou Sakho then lost the French striker who struck the cross crisply first time through the legs of Jones.

It became increasingly desperate for Rodgers, who tried to increase the pressure on the home side only to lose Borini to the red card. Yet Liverpool barely blinked when they went down to ten men and Arsenal, who had shown little discipline all afternoon, failed to make anything of the advantage.

In those last nine minutes Szczesny looked more assured stopping shots than the Arsenal defence did with balls crossed into the area. Skrtel beat Calum Chambers' challenge for the equaliser, headed in from an Adam Lallana corner. Rodgers had rescued a point.

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