Sports

Arsenal capitalise on Liverpool’s mistakes as the title race takes another twist

Arsenal 3-1 Liverpool (Saka 14′, Martinelli 67′, Trossard 90′ | Gabriel OG 45′)

EMIRATES STADIUM — Liverpool’s lead at the top of the table was cut to the same amount of points as there were defensive disasters and we very much have a Premier League title race on our hands.

You can maybe expect maybe one major cock-up by a defender – not every match, of course, but it’s part of the game – but to find two in the space of 90 minutes, in such a high-profile, high-stakes fixture between first and second is rare.

The decisive one, that turned the game in Arsenal’s favour, started out as nothing more than a hopeful ball forward from the back by Gabriel Magalhaes. Gabriel Martinelli gave chase, just as he had hunted down every sniff of a ball forward in the game.

Virgil van Djik had appeared perfectly relaxed about the situation, watching the ball drop over his shoulder, allowing it to run back to his goalkeeper. But Alisson Becker misjudged his run out. And Martinelli found the ball at his feet and an empty goal in which to roll it.

Van Dijk could only look up as the incident was replayed cruelly again and again on The Emirates big screens.

Still, it was nothing less than Arsenal deserved. They had started the game with the ferocious intensity of side whose Premier League title hopes hinged on it – they may well did. A two point gap is nothing. Eight points starts to look like a chasm that induces a kind of vertigo that can be near impossible to overcome. Now only seven separates first and fifth.

And Liverpool had been on fire, unbeaten in 11 games, in recent weeks knocking four past Chelsea, five past Norwich, four past Newcastle.

After only 10 minutes David Raya’s long throw was the starter pistol for Martinelli to thunder, hurling the ball halfway up the pitch into the Brazilian winger’s path. Ibrahima Konate couldn’t keep up but maintained just enough of an angle to prevent his opponent running towards goal, so Martinelli crossed, and found Bukayo Saka, who met the ball with a diving header but directed it wide.

It wasn’t long until the pressure paid and Saka made amends. Martin Odegaard clipped a pass through Liverpool’s defence, freeing Kai Havertz. Havertz’s shot was blocked by Alisson, but fell to Saka to control the ball and make it one-nil.

For 45 minutes and almost three of stoppage time, Arsenal worked diligently, permitting their league-leading visitors no shots on target only to gift them a goal with a calamitous mistake.

A pass over Arsenal’s defence and William Saliba failed to deal with Luis Diaz, attempting to ease the player away from the ball when he had the chance to clear. Diaz was able to flick the ball around Raya and across goal, and Gabriel panicked, turning it into his own net with a hand.

Player of the match: Declan Rice

  • Phenomenal, tireless, relentless, defending at one end, sparking attacks, joining them. A potential title-winning signing.

In the early exchanges of the second half the stunning blow appeared to have sucked the air out of Arsenal. Trent Alexander-Arnold started finding those laser-targeted passes. Liverpool started clicking. Curtis Jones bent an effort narrowly past a far post.

Mikel Arteta, the Arsenal manager, raged on the touchline, screaming at his players to remain calm. They listened.

Declan Rice, a colossus in central midfield, drove towards Liverpool’s goal with the ball from halfway and the fans rose to their feet in anticipation, indicating their belief in a player who only signed in the summer.

Then came Van Dijk’s mistake. The lead wrested back in a similar fashion to the way it was taken from them. The game was still poised but Konate was sent off for a second yellow with two minutes remaining and substitute Leandro Trossard added a third, through Alisson’s legs, for Arsenal in stoppage time.

Arteta burst down the touchline, roared, wheeled around, high-fived supporters. He knew the fight is far from over.

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