EPL

Mohamed Salah on target as Arsenal return to summit after draw at Liverpool

By Sports Desk December 23, 2023

Arsenal reclaimed top spot in time for Christmas but their wait for a win at Anfield stretches into a 12th year after an absorbing 1-1 draw which ensured Liverpool kept pace in the title race.

Gabriel’s early goal was cancelled out by a Mohamed Salah stunner and, despite both pushing for victory, the Premier League’s top two deservedly shared the spoils.

Being top for December 25 is no guarantee of future performance, however, as both these clubs are well aware; on the last six occasions a team has failed to go on and lift the trophy from this position it was one of them.

So while nothing has been decided, it at least provided some early festive fun and was the very antithesis of last weekend’s game here when Manchester United showed no attacking intent.

Arsenal were fully engaged, and while they left with the same point United did, it was achieved in a much different manner during a draining 90 minutes of high press and high intensity.

For the hosts centre-back Ibrahima Konate was imperious, Trent Alexander-Arnold visionary and Salah threatening, while Arsenal had their own rock at the back in William Saliba, with Declan Rice covering plenty of ground just in front of him.

On the bench Jurgen Klopp had a wry smile to himself as the atmosphere ramped up just before kick-off, just as he had planned with his carefully chosen comments about fan apathy.

But that smile was soon wiped off his face when Gabriel headed home Martin Odegaard’s fourth-minute free-kick.

It was a perfectly executed training ground routine to expose Liverpool’s high line; the four furthest-advanced players dropping back just before their captain delivered the cross which resulted in Cody Gakpo playing the Gunners centre-back onside.

The visitors sensed an opportunity and their midfield press created a three-on-three which saw Gabriel Jesus fire over.

But roared on by an Anfield crowd which still had Klopp’s admonishment ringing in their ears, Liverpool could have had a penalty when Odegaard stuck out a low left hand to stop Salah going past him, with only thing possibly saving him in the eyes of VAR was his loss of footing.

The equaliser was not long in coming, however, with Alexander-Arnold, at times dropping so deep in his hybrid role to almost be a third central defender, unsurprisingly the architect.

From 20 yards inside his own half his searching pass dropped over the head of Oleksandar Zinchenko, which Salah anticipated, who was then beaten easily as the Egypt international executed a trademark cutback to beat David Raya for pace at his near post.

Liverpool soon had left-back problems of their own when Bukayo Saka pushed Kostas Tsimikas, deputising for the long-term injured Andy Robertson, into Klopp and while both took a tumble in the technical area the Greek came off worse as he departed with what appeared to be either a shoulder or collarbone injury.

Replacement Joe Gomez saw Saka race past him to cut into the penalty area where Gabriel Martinelli fired wide with Alisson Becker out of his goal and only Gomez and Alexander-Arnold guarding the goalline.

Gomez, who has never scored a senior goal, almost ended his nine-year drought by curling a shot just wide early in the second half with Dominik Szoboszlai also off target as the hosts began to dominate the chances created.

The triple 68th-minute substitution of Darwin Nunez, Harvey Elliott and Ryan Gravenberch added new impetus as both sides started to show signs of having run themselves into the ground, with Leandro Trossard replacing Martinelli.

Elliott and Nunez both had chances either side of a five-on-two counter-attack launched by Salah after Odegaard and Zinchenko collided on the edge of Liverpool’s penalty area.

There were three team-mates queuing up to shoot but when Alexander-Arnold was teed up the ball bobbled and his shot smashed against the crossbar.

Kai Havertz’s penalty claim was quickly dismissed by VAR as neither side paused for breath in a thrilling finale.

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