For about 85 minutes of this match, Arsenal’s play ranged from careless to absolutely dreadful. Fortunately, however, in the other five minutes, four minutes and 45 seconds to be exact, the flailing Gunners, down 2-0, exploded for three goals. Roberto Firmino spoiled the party, though, with a tying goal in the 71st minute, forcing both teams to settle for a point in an exhilaratingly sloppy 3-3 draw.
As has been the case for the last handful of games, Arsenal came out of the gates flat and lacking energy with the ball. There seemed to be no plan for what to do in possession. The absence of pace and width in the team is becoming more and more glaring every week. Arsenal players had few outlets when under pressure, causing numerous turnovers in dangerous positions. Liverpool’s shaky defense had little to worry about in the first half, as Arsenal managed zero shots on target. Liverpool’s attack on the other hand, feasted on the Gunners’ lifeless play. Coutinho opened the scoring in the 26th minute, nodding home a deflected pass from Mohamed Salah over Petr Cech.
While the goal itself was a bit fluky, Liverpool sliced through Arsenal easily on a quick counter that started in their own half. Laurent Koscielny was also at fault for backing off Salah on his run down the wing far too much and affording him ample time on the ball
Arsenal was fortunate not to concede again shortly after - Cech made an excellent save on Salah before an acrobatic attempt by Sadio Mane off the rebound blazed over the bar late in the half. Salah also whiffed on a clear shooting opportunity moments later. All in all, it was a terrible and frustrating first half for the Gunners.
Salah finally made Arsenal pay in the 52nd minute, again capitalizing on a blazing counter attack that originated from an Arsenal turnover, this one by Ainsley Maitland-Niles, in Liverpool’s half. Koscielny, Jack Wilshere, and Shkodran Mustafi, who had come on for Nacho Monreal at half time, all followed Firmino down the touchline, leaving Salah wide open for a return pass. Though Salah’s shot benefitted from a deflection off Mustafi, it was another example of puzzling defensive play from Arsenal.
Suddenly, however, Arsenal woke up and turned the game on its head. First, it was Alexis Sanchez sneaking behind Joe Gomez to forcefully knock in a cross from Hector Bellerin a minute after Salah’s goal.
Alexis pulls one back for Arsenal, 1-2 pic.twitter.com/lC4PdxHdXW— Terje (@xArsenalTerje) December 22, 2017
A few minutes later, Granit Xhaka unleashed one of his patented long shots from outside the box. Unlike most of his attempts, this one was on target, and the ball knuckled and swerved enough that Simon Mignolet could only get a piece of it before it hit the net.
Xhaka with an absolute screamer to equalise against Liverpool. 2-2 pic.twitter.com/D1u0kdfCJr— Terje (@xArsenalTerje) December 22, 2017
Two minutes later, a Liverpool turnover set Mesut Ozil free in tons of space. Ozil made a pass into Alexandre Lacazette, who, with his back to goal, clipped a pass with his back heel right back for a rushing Ozil to chip over Mignolet. A truly beautiful goal.
Özil makes it 3-2, Arsenal have turned it around pic.twitter.com/N6VpKJBlfD— Terje (@xArsenalTerje) December 22, 2017
Unfortunately, the game didn’t end there, and Firmino, after another case of poor defensive play by multiple Arsenal players, made it 3-3 in the 71st minute. Leaving a large gap in the middle of the defense for Liverpool’s center forward was a bad idea, apparently. Cech may want that one back as well.
As much fun as that five minute outburst was, it should not be forgotten that Arsenal was quite awful for most of the game. The lack of a cohesive plan is startling, and this team has a lot of work to do to regain the flash of form they showed in late November starting in the North London Derby. If you’re looking for positives, Maitland-Niles played well, especially considering he was up against Salah and it was his third Premier League start at an unfamiliar position. Mesut Ozil continued his great run of form. Jack Wilshere survived another 90 minutes. That’s all good. Also, the three goal eruption was incredible to watch, and will remain incredible to look back on for a long time, even though Arsenal didn’t end up winning the match.
Up next is Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Thursday.