Liverpool dominated much of the play Sunday at home against Arsenal but only a late goal enabled it to secure a 2-2 tie. Here are three takeaways from the game at Anfield between two teams struggling to match their top-four finishes of last season:
1. Skrtel strikes again for Liverpool against the Gunners.
Midfielder Steven Gerrard has long been Liverpool’s captain and midfield general, yet Slovakian centerback Martin Skrtel has buttressed the back line since joining the team in January 2008.
In a 5-1 rout of Arsenal last February, he scored two of Liverpool’s goals. Deep into nine minutes of stoppage time necessitated by bandaging of a gash in his head, Skrtel leaped to meet a Adam Lallana corner kick and drill an unstoppable shot into the bottom corner to leave the teams tied, 2-2.
Skrtel needed treatment early in the second half when Gunners’striker Olivier Giroud accidentally stepped on his head as they tangled for a ball at the edge of the penalty area. Referee Michael Oliver allowed the Liverpool medical staff to clean the wound as Skrtel regained his senses and bandage him on the field, which required Oliver to add about six minutes of stoppage time.
Five substitutions were made, and more time was needed for the officials to assess a head injury to Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Officially, Skrtel’s goal was recorded as in the seventh minute of stoppage time.
2. Pressure pays off, sort of.
Pressing high for much of the game, Liverpool rolled up a 27-7 advantage in shots and a 64-36 percent edge in possession, but squandered a lot of chances and needed to rally with 10 men after substitute Fabio Borini was sent off.
Liverpool took a 1-0 lead late in the first half when Jordan Henderson pounced on an Arsenal turnover and clipped a pass to Philippe Coutinho, who took a touch and then arrowed a shot along the ground and off the inside of the far post. Raheem Sterling’s raids up the left flank unhinged the Arsenal defense as players scrambled to cover up spaces carved open by Liverpool’s pressure.
Yet several misses by Coutinho and Lazar Markovic, along with a diving header by Gerrard that sailed high of the net with the keeper out of position, prevented Liverpool from taking command before and after slack marking on a free kick allowed Mathieu Debuchy to equalize in first-half stoppage time.
Borini came on in the 74th minute and twice was denied by keeper Wojciech Szczesny, who needed to be especially sharp to tip Borini’s close-range header over the crossbar. Obviously frustrated, Borini took a stupid caution in the 90th minute by spiking the ball in protest of a refereeing decision and about two minutes later cleated Santi Cazorla in the ribs with a high kick and was dismissed.
3. Good and bad in goal.
The decision by Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers two weeks ago to replace Belgian goalkeeper Simon Mignolet with Brad Jones, who had sat on the bench unused for a Premier League record 98 straight games before getting the start in a 3-0 loss to Manchester United, is bringing mixed results.
With the score 0-0, Jones sped well out of his penalty area to defuse a dangerous situation by clearing the ball away from the pursuit of Danny Welbeck, but on a day he faced just three shots on goal he stopped only one of them. He barely got off his feet in first-half stoppage time as Mathieu Debuchy’s equalizing header floated into the top corner, and Arsenal took a 2-1 lead in the second half when Giroud’s first-time shot zipped between Jones’ legs.
Jones has started three games since his long sojourn on the bench: after the 3-0 loss to United he played in a 3-1 League Cup defeat of Bournemouth. Liverpool plays its next game Friday at Burnley, which is in 18th place.
TRIVIA. Liverpool's equalizer in the seventh minute of stoppage minute wasn't the latest it has ever scored to tie the Gunners. In 2011, the Reds scored on a Dirk Kurt goal in the 12th minute of stoppage time to earn a 1-1 tie. Robin van Persie had put Arsenal ahead four minutes earlier.
Dec. 21 in Liverpool
Liverpool 2 Arsenal 2. Coutinho 45, Skrtel 90+7; Debuchy 45+2, Giroud 64.
Liverpool – Jones; Sakho, Skrtel, Toure (Lambert, 81), Lucas, Gerrard, Markovic (Borini, 74), Henderson, Sterling, Coutinho, Lallana.
Arsenal – Szczesny: Gibbs, Mertesacker, Debuchy, Chambers, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Campbell,90), Flamini, Cazorla, Sanchez (Monreal, 90), Giroud (Coquelin, 82), Welbeck.
Red Card: Liverpool -- Borini 90.