Unai Emery wants to write a new history at Arsenal. It is one of his buzz phrases and he reaches for it at every available opportunity. In terms of the club’s travails against Big Six opposition, which admittedly pre-date him by some years, this was another frustrating result. The statistics show that Arsenal has now won only three of their last 28 such fixtures. Emery had started his reign with back-to-back defeats against Manchester City and Chelsea.
And yet there was plenty to like about how his team performed in a blood-and-thunder contest. They brought the passion, they created chances, mainly in the first half, and they were full value for their late equaliser, expertly finished by Alexandre Lacazette. The striker nipped on to a pass from the substitute Alex Iwobi and outfoxed Alisson, who had been lured off his line, before curling home.
At full-time the home crowd applauded their players. Liverpool were annoyed, having led through James Milner. They appeared to be set fair to see the game out and would have felt they created the clearer-cut chances. On the upside, they remain unbeaten. They might have signed for the point beforehand. They would not have done in the closing stages.
The tempo was breathless and the action open, and Liverpool must have wondered how they did not take the lead on 18 minutes. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross was floated beautifully and, having judged its bounce, Roberto Firmino lifted his shot over Bernd Leno and looked ready to celebrate only for the ball to rebound off the woodwork. Sadio Mané rolled the rebound in to the empty net but was flagged for offside.
Mané had been in front of the last defender when Alexander-Arnold played the pass and, from a position alongside Firmino, he appeared to be influencing the play. But when Firmino took his shot, Mané was behind him and the ball – in other words, he was onside for the second phase of play. The flag had not gone up during the first phase. Why not?
The near-miss fired Liverpool up and they enjoyed a purple patch in which they ought to have scored. Granit Xhaka jumped into a saving challenge on Mohamed Salah and Andy Robertson drilled straight at Leno but the big chance came in between, when Virgil van Dijk tiptoed into space behind Shkodran Mustafi.
Salah picked him out and van Dijk had only Leno to beat. His first touch was good but the finish was too close to the goalkeeper, who blocked. Mustafi scraped the ball away.
Arsenal had been first in to their stride in what was a rollercoaster first half. They brought the intensity. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang saw a shot diverted wide by Joe Gomez; Xhaka did not get hold of an effort after a cute corner routine and Henrikh Mkhitaryan looped a header inches off target from an Aubameyang cross, with Alisson having committed himself and failed to get there.
Arsenal pushed again after the half-hour. Mkhitaryan released Aubameyang with a flick but he could not muster sufficient power as van Dijk jumped in to challenge, while Alexandre Lacazette was put through by a Mesut Özil touch. Lining up a shot towards the far post, the striker dragged narrowly wide.
The half-time whistle brought a much-needed breather. The pace had been phenomenal – an excellent advertisement for the Premier League. Liverpool might have snatched the lead moments earlier. Arsenal’s defensive line broke down on James Milner’s free-kick and when Leno left his line, he was beaten to the ball by van Dijk, whose header hit the foot of the post.
Jürgen Klopp switched to 4-2-3-1 at the start of the second half, moving Milner to the right and asking Salah to play up top, with Firmino in behind. It was Milner who got forward to break the deadlock. The goal was a bad moment for Leno, who Emery had started ahead of Petr Cech. When Mané crossed low from the left, Leno’s footwork was not good enough and he stretched for the ball, pushing it out into a dangerous area. It flicked off Holding and broke for Milner, who lashed home.
Arsenal played on the front foot, the full-backs, Héctor Bellerín and Sead Kolasinac, bombing forward. The impressive Lucas Torreira extended Alisson shortly after Milner’s goal but the tide had turned. Liverpool were in control and they almost extended their lead. Firmino was off target with a header from one corner; van Dijk worked Leno from another. On another day, Van Dijk could have had a hat-trick.
Emery gambled by sending on Danny Welbeck for Kolasinac and asking Iwobi to play left-back. Fortune would favour the brave, with Iwobi playing in Lacazette for the equaliser.