Walcott stunner completes outstanding Gunners comeback
Arsene Wenger's team came from two goals down to maintain their three-point lead over the Merseysiders in the race for the Champions League qualification placesJordan Henderson had added to Luis Suarez's 17th league goal of the season to put Brendan Rodgers’ team in control at the hour mark but, just when it looked like the Reds were going to shed their flat-track-bully tag, the Gunners produced a storming revival, scoring two goals in three minutes through Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott.
In a grandstand finish, Arsene Wenger’s team went all-out for the winner but Liverpool remained resolute through a combination of grit, fortune and poor finishing from the hosts.
The draw means that Arsenal remained four points behind fourth-placed Tottenham in the race for the Champions League positions and it will agitate Wenger that they have mustered only a single point in league fixtures against Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool in January after some more abject defending on a marquee occasion.
The hosts recalled Jack Wilshere, Walcott, Santi Cazorla, fit-again Thomas Vermaelen, Bacary Sagna, Santi Cazorla and Kieran Gibbs to the team that began the 3-2 FA Cup win at Brighton.
For Liverpool, Rodgers also rung the changes, with skipper Steven Gerrard returning to the team alongside fit-again pair Pepe Reina and Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Lucas Leiva, Jamie Carragher and Stewart Downing.
It was like football in fast-forward in the early exchanges as the two teams traded lightning-quick attacks and clear goalscoring opportunities.
Suarez, starting on the left of the three attacking midfielders behind centre forward Daniel Sturridge, caused havoc with his uncanny ability to find space and also for some spectacular passes from out wide.
The Uruguayan's goal owed much to some calamitous defending from the home side. Sagna's slip allowed Johnson to run clear on the left and, after a hashed clearance from Vermaelen and a smothered shot from Sturridge, Jordan Henderson tapped the rebound to Suarez, whose shot deflected off a defender and in.
Arsenal responded by carving open Liverpool’s defence seemingly at will with some excellent combination play. The menacing Walcott (twice) and Giroud both coming close to scoring an equaliser.
Somehow, Liverpool held firm, although they had Gerrard to thank for an excellent last-ditch clearance that followed another zippy Arsenal attack.
Rodgers’ pre-match sermon appeared to have fired up the visitors, who were incisive in possession and pressed the hosts’ jittery defence into making mistakes as they ended the opening period the better team.
The one let-down was Henderson, who made a series of wonky passes when well placed. Yet the midfielder kept getting in good positions and came close to doubling the visitors’ advantage with a chipped shot on the cusp of half-time that landed on the roof of the net with Wojciech Szczesny stranded.
Following 15 minutes of second-half dominance from Arsenal, Henderson made another excellent run and finally made it count with a fine solo goal.
After turning past Per Mertesacker and outmuscling the substitute Andre Santos, the midfielder collected a lucky rebound after his first shot was saved to pass the ball into an empty net.
Arsenal were momentarily demoralised but were soon back in the game following two goals in three minutes.
The comeback began when Giroud headed in Jack Wilshere’s right-wing free kick for his fifth goal in three games and his 14th of the season.
But the best goal of the night came after 67 minutes, when Walcott, who had been lively all game on the wing, received a lay-off on the right side of the box and sent the ball flying into the far corner of the net with a shot of tremendous speed and precision.
Arsenal threw bodies forward as they went all out for the winner with some wonderful attacking play.
Giroud got in some excellent positions but was guilty of missing a hat-trick of chances late on, including a sitter with only a few minutes left on the clock.