Skrtel saves Liverpool as Reds salvage a point against Arsenal
Bloodied defender heads home in the 97th minute to rescue Brendan Rodgers and deny Gunners victory
Liverpool 2 Arsenal 2. Martin Skrtel was Brendan Rodgers's saviour at Anfield as his equaliser, in the seventh minute of injury time secured Liverpool a deserved share of the points against Arsenal. With his head bandaged after an earlier collision with Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud, Skrtel rose above the visitors' defence to direct a powerful header past Wojciech Szczesny to the immense relief of Rodgers and the Anfield faithful.
The Liverpool manager's job has come under scrutiny after Liverpool's poor start to the season and another home defeat – against a side they crushed 5-1 at Anfield last season – would have added to the pressure on Rodgers's shoulders. As it is, he now has some breathing space although Liverpool remain in tenth in the league on 22 points. "I'm delighted with our performances this week against Manchester United, Bournemouth [in the league cup] and Arsenal, it shows we are getting back to where we are," he declared. "I don't think before this week we have been close to that level of speed and thought. You have to be creative as a coach to find a system that brings you back to that."
Arsenal will be quietly satisfied with the draw. They may have held the lead until seconds before the end of the match, but they were dominated by Liverpool in the first half and it was another stuttering display from the Gunners. The point leaves them in sixth place, 12 points behind leaders Chelsea who visit Stoke tonight. "When you are 2-1 up with minutes to go you want to win, but objectively 2-2 is a fair result," admitted Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, whose side have lost just one of their last seven matches in all competitions.
Nonetheless, Wenger – who spoke before the match of his determination to sign a central defender in next month's transfer window – revealed his frustration at Liverpool's a late goal. "In the long stoppage time you have to survive two three corners and free-kicks," said Wenger. "For their goal, we had plenty of defenders on the pitch. It's disappointing that we didn't even jump. You want everybody to be focused on the corner."
Arsenal's defence was also at fault for the first goal, allowing Philippe Coutinho too much space so that the Brazilian could drive the ball home two minutes before half-time. It was nothing less than the Reds deserved but seconds later Arsenal had equalised with their first serious attempt on goal of the afternoon. A free kick was only half cleared by Liverpool and Mathieu Flamini's cross was met by Mathieu Debuchy, who outjumped Skrtel to head past Brad Jones.
Giroud then put Arsenal 2-1 up on 64 minutes, the Frenchman firing home after a delightful one-two with Santi Cazorla down the left flank.
It was not Giroud's first significant contribition. Earlier, he accidentally trod on Skrtel's head after the defender fell as they tangled on the edge of the box. The injury, which required eight stitches, caused a lengthy delay but the bandaged and bloodied Slovakian showed his steel by levelling for Liverpool late on despite the fact they were down to ten men following the dismissal of Fabio Borini for a second bookable offence.
"Even down to ten men we kept penetrating and the goal at the end was the very least we deserved, for the character we showed," said Rodgers.