Liverpool vs Arsenal match report: Dramatic Joe Allen equaliser denies Gunners in thriller

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The Independent Football

Just as Arsenal looked set to throw down the gauntlet in the title race, they dropped it on their toes by allowing Joe Allen to snatch a 90th-minute equaliser for Liverpool at Anfield and write another chapter of unpredictability in this incredible Premier League season.

Jürgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, celebrated in the style of Jose Mourinho by sprinting down the touchline and punching the air after two substitutes – Allen and Christian Benteke – had combined to salvage a point when the Welsh midfielder struck in front of the Kop in the dying seconds.

But while Liverpool toasted a point as though it were three, Arsenal could only shake their heads at the two they had thrown away on a night when Manchester City had failed to close the gap by drawing at home to Everton.

Olivier Giroud’s two goals looked set to win the game for Arsenal, but they let it slip and must now bounce back at Stoke, their bogey ground, on Sunday. Arsenal’s form away from the Emirates was emerging as a potential Achilles heel for their title aspirations before they arrived  at Anfield.

This was Arsène Wenger’s team’s first outing on the road since the 4-0 defeat at Southampton on Boxing Day and they faced Liverpool having secured just one Premier League away win – against bottom club Aston Villa – since a 3-0 victory at Swansea on Hallowe’en.

Anfield will always hold fond memories for Arsenal, thanks to Michael Thomas’ dramatic title-clincher at this stadium in May 1989, but it is only two years since their  5-1 humbling here and this was going to be a stern test of their credentials.

The league leaders started slowly, though, and allowed Liverpool to build early momentum, with Klopp’s  4-1-4-1 formation enabling the home side to take a grip of midfield.

And after Adam Lallana was rightly denied a penalty in the sixth minute by referee Mike Jones after stumbling into Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker, Liverpool took the lead with a 10th-minute opener from Firmino.

The Brazilian forward has endured a miserable time on Merseyside since his £29m summer arrival from Hoffenheim, scoring just once in 24 outings, but he was nonetheless selected ahead of £32.5m centre-forward Benteke in order to give Liverpool greater movement in the final third.

Firmino’s goal was a bad one from Arsenal’s perspective, though, with goalkeeper Petr Cech proving fallible when dealing with Emre Can’s  initial shot.

Rather than push the ball to safety, Cech palmed it straight back into play and it dropped to Firmino, who took a touch to control before guiding his shot through the legs of  Laurent Koscielny and into the net.

Liverpool remain a work in progress at the back, however, and their problems were exacerbated with first-choice centre-halves Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren both ruled out with injuries.

Kolo Touré and Mamadou Sakho are a noticeable downgrade on Skrtel and Lovren and Arsenal capitalised on their uncertainty just four minutes after Firmino’s opener by equalising through Ramsey.

Joel Campbell was given too much time and space to turn on the edge of the penalty area and the Costa Rican fed Ramsey with a reverse pass before the midfielder beat goalkeeper Simon Mignolet with a first-time shot at the near post.

Another goal, another goalkeeping mistake, but Cech was powerless when Firmino scored again five minutes later to restore Liverpool’s lead with another outstanding finish.

James Milner’s deft lay-off made the goal for Firmino, who opened up his body before arrowing an unstoppable right-foot curler beyond Cech and into the top  corner.

Klopp’s faith was being repaid by Firmino, but once again those frailties at the back resurfaced to allow Arsenal back into the game for a second time.

After Sakho had done well to clear Ramsey’s goalbound lob off the line, Giroud equalised on 26 minutes by diverting Mesut Özil’s corner past Mignolet with the deftest of touches at the near post.

Mignolet should have stopped it, though, with the ball almost apologetically bouncing through the Belgian’s legs before nestling into the net in front of The Kop.

Mignolet made amends three minutes later, however, by keeping out another Giroud effort with his heel, although he did not appear to know too much about the whereabouts of the ball.

Having lost the lead twice, Liverpool’s anxiety and that of the crowd grew with every misplaced pass in the second half, and Arsenal’s superior quality was a key factor behind the pendulum swinging towards Wenger’s men.

Walcott’s pace was a constant threat – the winger shot narrowly wide following a 40-yard run into Liverpool territory – and Giroud’s strength gave Arsenal a platform to build attacks up front.

The French forward divides opinion, but there could be no questioning his second goal, which showcased the best of Robin van Persie in his Arsenal pomp.

Having received Campbell’s deflected pass, Giroud turned Touré brilliantly before sending a crisp left-foot shot beyond Mignolet to put Arsenal 3-2 up.

It should have been the winner, with Liverpool struggling to land a punch until Allen struck in the dying minutes of a pulsating contest.

A point at Anfield is never a bad result for a title-chasing team, but this was two points dropped for Arsenal, make no mistake.