Anything but a win was required for Arsenal to stay within touching distance of Premier League leaders Liverpool at a chilly Christmas-esque Emirates.
Rafa Benitez was unable to attend the game in north London due to kidney stones, but it didn’t stop the Reds from challenging for the three points.
French midfielder Samir Nasri was welcomed back into the team for Arsenal after injury, while former Spurs forward Robbie Keane had another chance to show why his price tag is so high with another start upfront.
Arsenal Starting XI
Sagna – Gallas – Djourou – Clichy
Denilson – Fabregas (c) – Song – Nasri
Adebayor – Van Persie
Liverpool Starting XI
Arbeloa – Carragher – Agger – Insua
Kuyt – Lucas – Gerrard (c) – Alonso – Riera
The Reds had the first real chance of the game when in the 10th minute, Keane escaped the Gunners off-side trap and collected a long ball from Daniel Agger. The former Tottenham Hotspur forward set up skipper Steven Gerrard, who however, drove straight at goalkeeper Manuel Almunia.
In the 14th minute, Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina had to make a low save off Adebayor’s flicked-on header after the Togo striker made a diagonal run towards the right side of the area to meet a cross from Bacary Sagna.
The home side went ahead in the 24th minute when Van Persie scored with a superb finish. The Dutch international forward met a long diagonal ball from Samir Nasri with his chest and took a first touch taking the ball away from Jamie Carragher, stretched past the Reds defender to power his strike into the back of the net.
Goal: Robin van Persie (24) – Arsenal 1-0 Liverpool
Liverpool, who had made a confident start, came under pressure after the goal as the home side had their tail up also defending fairly well. But the north Londoners were caught out in the 41st minute.
With a direct piece of football, the Reds came up with the equaliser when Keane scored with a fantastic volley after being set up by a long ball from Alvaro Arbeloa.
Goal: Robbie Keane (41) – Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool
The Reds had a golden opportunity to make it 2-1 two minutes later as Dirk Kuyt sent in a cross into the six yard box, but Gerrard despite making all his effort to meet the ball, could only slice it wide of the target with only Almunia to beat.
Arsenal skipper Cesc Fabregas suffered a knock on his knee and had to be helped off the pitch at half time interval. He was replaced by Abou Diaby at the start of the second period.
Almunia had to make a sharp save with Lucas testing the Gunners keeper to his right early in the second half.
Arsenal were reduced down to 10 men just past the hour mark as referee Howard Webb showed the red card to Adebayor following a dubious-looking challenge on Arbeloa. The striker was booked in the first half for a foul on Emiliano Insua.
The home side continued to attack with Denilson almost immediately threatening Reina, but the midfielder’s shot from a tight angle was wide of the far post.
The proceedings took a ragged form after the sending off with Webb going on a spate of bookings with Van Persie, Sagna and Carragher getting into the book for reckless challenges.
The Gunners defended resolutely even as the Reds with their man advantage failed to muster clear-cut chances.
Reds’ passing did not seem to work as they went in search of the late winner, and Denmark international Agger moved up to try his luck with a long range shot that only just missed the top corner with five minutes left. Substitute Nabil El Zhar’s glancing header failed to find the target as the clock ticked into the injury time.
Gooner Talk’s Man of the Match: Samir Nasri – After coming back into the side after injury, Nasri provided a wonderful assist for van Persie to make it 1-0. Some superb footwork, neat passing and endless attacking followed from Arsenal’s French maestro – he’ll be needed for the coming games against Villa and Pompey.