Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal: Gunners ‘measured and mature’ in Anfield draw

Declan Rice, Virgil van Dijk and Bukayo Saka

Jurgen Klopp ordered Liverpool’s fans to bring the noise and give Arsenal a “proper Anfield experience” at the place where their nerve has so often failed them in past.

Arsenal have not won at Anfield since September 2012 and visits into this hothouse atmosphere are always used as a gauge for the Gunners’ title-winning temperament and credentials – or lack of them.

It was in April, with Arsenal were cruising at 2-0, that Granit Xhaka unwisely infuriated Liverpool fans in a spat with Trent Alexander-Arnold, firing up Anfield to the extent that Mikel Arteta’s side ended up so ragged that they were fortunate to escape with a draw.

This was the moment the rot set in last season, the start of the late collapse that eventually saw the long-time leaders overhauled by eventual champions Manchester City.

The same litmus test was being prepared here, especially after Klopp took it upon himself to criticise the Anfield atmosphere after Liverpool thrashed West Ham United 5-1 in the Carabao Cup quarter-final in midweek.

To many observers, including this one, it appeared to be a rather confected ‘criticism’ specifically designed to whip Liverpool’s fans into a frenzy before Anfield’s biggest league game of the season against opponents who have cracked in this environment before.

Liverpool manager Klopp’s words worked on one level as Anfield was at full volume, raucous and hostile before kick-off, but if this was also a ploy designed to put Arsenal to the test, they passed in an impressive demonstration of their growing maturity.

Arsenal and Arteta would have loved to get the win that would not only have been three points but arguably the biggest psychological lift they could get. This did not happen and the final scoreline of 1-1 will suit the pursuing new Club World Cup champions Manchester City more than the two teams on show here.

City and Pep Guardiola would have been concerned that the victor here could steal a march while they celebrated their triumph in Saudi Arabia – but this was the result they would have wanted.

Liverpool, justifiably, will argue they had the better of the chances as substitute Harvey Elliott grazed the outside of a post in the second half and Alexander-Arnold wasted the best chance to win the game when he thrashed a finish against the bar late on.

They will also be puzzled how a clear handball by Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard in the first half was missed by the officials and VAR.

In the final reckoning, however, Arsenal will take a point with satisfaction despite having been pegged back by Mohamed Salah’s 29th-minute thunderbolt after defender Gabriel had headed Arsenal in front after only four minutes.

If we are using that old Anfield measure, then their performance here showed an Arsenal team more measured and mature than last season, tough to break down and with a stronger temperament when then going gets tough and the Kop’s decibels rise, as they did in the second half.

Liverpool had stellar performers in defenders Ibrahima Konate and Joe Gomez but two Arsenal standouts produced the best evidence that they are in good shape for another tilt at the title.

Declan Rice and Jurgen Klopp

Declan Rice was a guarantee of quality and influence, even at £105m when signed from West Ham United, and proved it again here from before the first whistle to the last.

Rice, it was, who delivered strong messages to his Arsenal team-mates in the pre-match huddle before producing the performance of a thoroughbred.

The midfielder’s game awareness was peerless, cleaning up danger, picking passes and acting as a constant source of guidance to his team-mates throughout. Rice barely wasted the ball and his presence acts as a source of calm, ideal on the occasions when the storm raged.

William Saliba took the honours along with him for a magnificent performance in defence but this was no rearguard action by Arsenal, whose clear intent was to win this game and they had it under control until Salah’s brilliant finish from Alexander-Arnold’s raking pass. Yes, they had to suffer but this was not a timid performance. Arsenal were brave and willing to attack when the chance presented itself.

There was no doubt who was happiest at the final whistle, even though the door has now been left ajar for City, who next play at Everton on 27 December.

Liverpool manager Klopp, despite his frustration, was equally impressed by Arsenal when he said: “Oh my God. How strong are they? The good news is we are good as well.”

And Klopp is not wrong, although he would have hoped for a better haul than two points from home games against Manchester United and the Gunners.

It is the first time Liverpool have two gone successive Premier League games at Anfield without winning since October 2021, but it is a testament to their character that they have recovered 19 points from losing positions in the title race this season, more than any other side. They have lost just one league game in 2023-24 despite falling behind in 10.

For Arsenal, this was a test in a wider context.

History shows this particular game is examined for flaws in the Gunners’ mental and footballing make-up. There were not too many on show here as they left Anfield with an important point and showed they will be right in the Premier League title race once more.

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