A headed goal in the last minute from Emile Heskey brought Liverpool a stunning and surprise point at Anfield last night, pegging back Arsenal who had been largely in control of this compelling contest. The roar from the Kop as Heskey headed in will have reached Sir Alex Ferguson just as the manager of Manchester United reached his car outside Anfield.
Arsenal's class on the counter-attack appeared to have brought them deserved victory but one had to admire the persistence of Gerard Houllier's oft-maligned men. With Jerzy Dudek outstanding in goal and Steven Gerrard an increasingly dominant force in midfield, Liverpool clawed their way back, equalising twice against Arsene Wenger's champions.
Until John Arne Riise's spectacular strike - a full-blooded thumping of the ball which raged past David Seaman seven minutes into the second half - Arsenal had dominated, blending athleticism and artistry in equal measure to give Liverpool a lesson in the art of turning possession quickly into potent attack. And even when Riise equalised Robert Pires's opener, Arsenal simply showed their resilient streak and retook the lead through Dennis Bergkamp. But Heskey had the last word.
Wenger's kings of the counter-attack had been swiftly into their devastating stride, making light of Liverpool's promising early flurry before ripping apart the hosts with a lightning strike containing exquisite first-time passing, clever movement and a precise finish.
When Gilberto outjumped Sami Hyypia outside Seaman's penalty area the move was triggered, players darting forward at speed. Gilberto, such a wonderful contributor to central midfield, teed up Bergkamp, who wasted no time in sliding the ball from the right into the flying feet of Thierry Henry. Jerzy Dudek did well to block Henry's shot but Pires was quickest to the follow-up.
The goal embodied the champions' speed of thought and body; Liverpool had failed to react swiftly enough to the gathering danger and El-Hadji Diouf was culpable in not tracking back with Pires. Fluency and verve coursed through Arsenal, while a lack of ideas characterised Liverpool.
Until the second half brought new vigour and attacking variety from Liverpool, contrasts had abounded: for 45 minutes Arsenal had been so much more assured in possession, rarely ceding the ball, and far more confident in front of goal. Michael Owen could have had a first-half hat-trick but was denied by his own hesitancy and the excellence of Seaman's reflexes and positioning, most notably in the 22nd minute when the England centre-forward turned Sol Campbell and drilled in a shot well-saved by Seaman with his legs.
When Campbell, misreading the ball's pace, gifted Owen a free run on goal shortly afterwards an equaliser appeared inevitable but Owen's body language betrayed a lack of belief and he allowed Seaman to make a routine stop.
These moments of brief hope brought only frustration to those on the Kop, who fidgeted uneasily as their Arsenal counterparts booed long balls by Liverpool. At least Gerrard, his enterprise matched by his team-mates only after the interval, was refusing to be overawed, the England midfielder charging from the deep or sweeping some fine passes. Sven-Goran Eriksson looked on approvingly.
Arsenal's cutting edge was far the sharper in the first half and but for some superb shot-stopping by Dudek, Wenger's men would have been over the horizon by half-time. The Polish goalkeeper, showing great character and an adhesive touch, pushed away a brace of fierce strikes from Henry. He was beaten by Campbell's header but the 'goal' was ruled out for Patrick Vieira's push on Hyypia. Dudek was also grateful to Bruno Cheyrou for clearing Pascal Cygan's header off the line.
Houllier roused his charges at half-time, and how they responded. Within four minutes Seaman was making a marvellous save from Riise, but when the Norwegian next came calling the England goalkeeper had no chance. Danny Murphy's up-and-under was hunted down by Owen, who was dispossessed by Lauren but the ball fell kindly for Liverpool and bounced to Heskey. The forward laid the ball off to Riise, whose thunderous 20-yarder flashed past Seaman.
Ferguson could have been forgiven for adding to Anfield's celebrations but within 10 minutes Arsenal had regained the lead. Following a good build-up the ball was conveyed to the dexterous feet of Bergkamp, whose shot caught Stephane Henchoz and deceived Dudek on its way in.
Liverpool laboured while Arsenal were a class apart and only two flying saves from Dudek kept out Henry. But then came Heskey, heading in Salif Daio's cross to delight Anfield - and Ferguson.
Liverpool: Dudek, Carragher, Henchoz, Hyypia, Riise, Diouf (Baros 82), Murphy (Diao 80), Gerrard, Cheyrou (Smicer 69), Heskey, Owen.
Subs Not Used: Arphexad, Traore.
Goals: Riise 52, Heskey 90.
Arsenal: Seaman, Lauren, Campbell, Cygan, Cole, Parlour, Vieira, Silva, Pires, Bergkamp (Luzhny 86), Henry.
Subs Not Used: Taylor, Jeffers, Wiltord, van Bronckhorst.
Goals: Pires 9, Bergkamp 63.
Ref: M Halsey (Lancashire).
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