Underwhelming point underlines progress but Arsenal regrets hard to ignore
By James Pearce
21:08, 3 NOV 2018
Liverpool left the Emirates top of the table but with a nagging sense of what might have been.
Jurgen Klopp's side were agonisingly close to securing the kind of statement victory which would have reverberated at the Etihad.
James Milner looked set to be the unlikely hero before Alexandre Lacazette's late strike salvaged a point.
Regrets? The Reds had a few. They hit the woodwork twice, Sadio Mane had a perfectly good goal wrongly chalked off and a number of other gilt-edged chances went begging.
But it's a mark of how far they have come under Klopp that leaving North London with a share of the spoils felt underwhelming.
In the cold light of day this should feel like a point won rather than two lost. Liverpool weren't at their sparkling best and they ran into an impressive Arsenal team who have been transformed by Unai Emery.
Manchester City, who will regain top spot if they avoid defeat at home to Southampton on Sunday, can count themselves fortunate that they went to the Emirates in August when Emery was still getting his feet under the table.
Now the Gunners, who are unbeaten in 14 games in all competitions, are a very different beast. This was a thrilling end-to-end spectacle with an array of attacking riches on display. How it only contained two goals will remain a mystery.
No team has caused Klopp's Liverpool this many problems so far this season. Virgil van Dijk was a colossus at the back and Joe Gomez also excelled as the Reds, who had just 38% possession, worked tirelessly to keep the hosts out.
There were spells when Klopp's men were rocking but they refused to buckle. This title challenge is built on strong foundations and that defensive solidity was crucial here.
Their tally of 27 points out of a possible 33 – the same haul they had after 11 games back in 2002/03 - equals their best-ever start to a Premier League season.
They have already played Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal away and enjoyed a win and two draws. They are in a position of real strength with plenty of room for improvement.
With Dejan Lovren ruled out with a minor thigh problem, Gomez was recalled at centre-back with left-back Andy Robertson replacing Alberto Moreno.
Klopp went for solidity over creativity in midfield by reverting back to 4-3-3 with Milner, who wore the armband, taking over from Adam Lallana and Xherdan Shaqiri also having to settle for a place on the bench.
Emery didn't hold back as he unleashed the attacking quartet of Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
It was Arsenal who seized the initiative in the opening 45 minutes as they put the Reds on the back foot.
Alisson Becker was alert to deny Lacazette at his near post before Gomez did brilliantly to get across and divert Aubameyang's strike behind.
Liverpool's No 1 was the most relieved man inside the Emirates when Mkhitaryan's header drifted wide after the keeper had failed to deal with a cross.
Klopp couldn't disguise his anger on the touchline as Arsenal played with a tempo and intensity the visitors struggled to match.
Liverpool weren't helped by some wretched decisions and they were harshly denied the breakthrough.
Roberto Firmino latched on to a delightful dinked pass from Trent Alexander-Arnold and lifted the ball over Bernd Leno. It came back off the post and Mane tucked away the rebound.
The offside flag curtailed the celebrations despite replays showing that Mane was behind Firmino when the Brazilian fired goalwards.
Fired up by a sense of injustice, Liverpool started to ask more questions of an Arsenal backline which has looked vulnerable this season. Mohamed Salah came to life down the right as the Reds utilised his pace on the counter.
Van Dijk has yet to score a Premier League goal for the club but he really should have opened his account after the Gunners were caught napping by a quickly taken throw-in.
Salah's delivery into the box was pin-point and the Dutchman expertly took it down on his chest but fired tamely at Leno. A golden chance had gone begging.
Liverpool's problem was that there was little control in midfield. Too many battles were lost.
This represented a step up in class for Fabinho after his recent starts against Red Star Belgrade and Cardiff City and he endured a difficult night. The Brazilian couldn't get to grips with the pace of the game and was wasteful in possession.
Aubameyang and Lacazette both went close before Lacazette rightly saw an effort disallowed for offside.
It was so open it was akin to a basketball match. Anxiety for Liverpool at one end quickly turned to thrilling promise at the other.
Just before the break Van Dijk rose to meet Milner's free-kick, Leno flapped and the Reds centre-back saw his header bobble against the upright.
With 18 to their name, Arsenal had scored more second-half goals than any other Premier League side this season and Liverpool had to dig deep after the restart.
Van Dijk was immense as he repeatedly spotted danger and dealt with it. When Mkhitaryan broke away, he darted back and simply out-muscled him.
Having hung in there, Liverpool countered and broke the deadlock thanks to a helping hand from Leno just past the hour mark.
Mane burst down the left and his cross was unconvincingly pushed away by the German keeper. It flicked off Rob Holding and dropped perfectly into the path of Milner, who drilled home from 15 yards.
The travelling Kop erupted as Milner was mobbed by his team-mates. It was his first goal from open play since March 2016.
Liverpool could have killed the Gunners off but Firmino nodded wide and then Van Dijk's bullet header was tipped over by Leno.
It would have been the first time since 1996/97 that the Reds had won away to both Tottenham and Arsenal in the same top-flight campaign.
But with eight minutes to go Liverpool's narrow lead was wiped out. Lacazette was forced wide by Alisson rushing off his line but the French striker shifted it on to his right foot and arrowed the ball into the far corner.
Predictably, neither team shut up shop and settled for a point. Salah could have put one on a plate for Mane at the death but couldn't find him.
Liverpool emerged frustrated but with momentum firmly intact.
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Kolasinac (Welbeck 80), Xhaka, Torreira, Mkhitaryan (Iwobi 68), Lacazette, Ozil, Aubameyang (Ramsey 73).
Not used: Cech, Lichtsteiner, Maitland-Niles, Smith-Rowe
Liverpool: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson, Fabinho, Milner, Wijnaldum, Salah (Matip 90+4), Firmino (Shaqiri 80), Mane.
Not used: Mignolet, Moreno, Lallana, Sturridge, Origi
Referee: Andre Marriner
Goals: Milner 61, Lacazette 82
Bookings: Fabinho, Lacazette.
Man of the match: Virgil van Dijk. A colossus at the back for the Reds.
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