Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Premier League – Walcott denies Liverpool in breathless encounter

Theo Walcott drove home a blistering equaliser as Arsenal retrieved a two-goal deficit to earn a 2-2 draw with Liverpool from a rip-roaring Premier League dust-up at the Emirates Stadium.
Marshalled superbly at the back by the evergreen Jamie Carragher, Liverpool were rewarded for an intelligent counter attacking strategy that worked almost to perfection in the first hour as goals from Luis Suarez (5) and Jordan Henderson (60) earned them a 2-0 lead aided by some slipshod home defending.
But Arsene Wenger’s side showed off all their attacking wares in the final 30 minutes or so as an Olivier Giroud header (64) and Walcott’s strike (67) ensured them of a point that they were well worth after an evening that seemed to spend much of its time raging from end to end.
Walcott was a constant thorn in Liverpool’s side in leading his team’s recovery.
He scored his 11th Premier League goal of the season here, and has now scored in each of his last four matches in all competitions.
On a more concerning note, Arsenal remain with only one win in five outings in the Premier League since the turn of the year.
Their obvious inability to project any degree of certainty in defence could yet cost Arsenal their place in the top four this season, no matter how exciting they are going forward.
Liverpool continue their run of not having beaten any side in the top 10 of Premier League this season, but will manager Brendan Rodger will probably be content with a point that keeps them three points behind Arsenal in seventh place.
Wenger made six changes to his side from the 3-2 win at Brighton in the FA Cup fourth round. Thomas Vermaelen recovered from an ankle injury with Kieran Gibbs – who was replaced by Andre Santos due to a muscle injury on 37 minutes – and Bacary Sagna returning to the full-back berths. Jack Wilshere played alongside Aaron Ramsey in midfield.
Liverpool opted for seven alterations from the side that lost 3-2 to Oldham in the Cup on Sunday. Pepe Reina and Glen Johnson returned from injury with captain Steven Gerrard starting in midfield. Stewart Downing was back for Liverpool with Jose Enrique named among the substitutes.
Liverpool benefited from some wretched defending by the home side to move ahead on five minutes.
A slip by Sagna saw Johnson bound towards the Arsenal area before sending the ball across the home goal.
Vermaelen somehow failed to clear Johnson’s ball as Wojciech Szczesny halted a Daniel Sturridge shot after the forward found himself unmarked.
Henderson kept his composure amid the panic to feed Suarez, who lifted the ball over Szczesny and into the net.
Arsenal were almost level seconds later when Walcott bounded in on goal, but Pepe Reina stood tall to nudge the ball over the bar.
Liverpool continued to enjoy some freedom whenever they broke up field. Sturridge was played in by a superb pass from Suarez, but he could only knock the shot wide on the run.
Szczesny then almost presented Sturridge with a tap-in after crazily attempting a spot of dribbling five yards from his goal. The home side finally came to their senses to make some gains moments later.
Lukas Podolski picked out Giroud who knocked a shot wide of goal while Reina did superbly well to dive to his left in repelling a swerving Walcott effort on 20 minutes.
At the other end, Daniel Agger rose above Szczesny to head towards goal from Gerrard’s corner on 30 minutes, but Podolski was well placed on the line to prevent a certain second while Henderson lifted a chip over the bar with Szczesny well out of his goal in trying to make a challenge.
Liverpool looked eager at the outset of the second period and were rewarded with a second goal after Vermaelen had escaped conceding a penalty when he seemed to handle in challenging Sturridge. But Arsenal were also denied their own claim for a penalty when Podolski seemed to be clipped by Andre Wisdom in the visiting box.
The second Liverpool goal came to fruition when Henderson began a hopeful run outside of the Arsenal area. He somehow managed to elude five home players as the ball broke kindly for him in the heart of the box. He could hardly believe his luck in slipping the shot into the gaping net with Szczesny stranded.
Walcott had headed over seconds earlier, but Arsenal picked themselves up quickly to breathe new life into the match when Giroud rose to head a Wilshere free-kick into the net.
Liverpool were reeling when they shed the equaliser moments later. Santi Cazorla fed Giroud, whose lay-off was met by Walcott to lash a low shot into the net that was beyond Reina before he knew it.
Cazorla slammed an effort wide while Reina saved from Giroud as Arsenal pressed for the winner, but it would not come as Giroud agonisingly failed to convert a Podolski cross three minutes from time.
Liverpool could also have snagged the winner three minutes into four added on for stoppages, but Szczesny threw himself across goal to halt the Suarez shot.

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