Arsenal ensured they will top the Premier League table on Christmas Day with a 1-1 draw at Liverpool – a game which Mikel Arteta described as “one of the most intense and hectic” games he has ever seen.
The Gunners made a very fast start at Anfield and Gabriel Magalhaes headed home Martin Odegaard’s free-kick after just four minutes to silence Anfield.
Jurgen Klopp’s side grew into the game and Mohamed Salah equalised midway through the first half after Trent Alexander-Arnold found him with a stunning pass, with the Egypt forward beating the vulnerable Oleksandr Zinchenko on his way to goal.
Both teams had their fair share of chances in the thrilling encounter that followed, the best falling to Alexander-Arnold who smashed the bar from close range as Liverpool spurned a five-versus-two counter-attack.
The result means Arsenal have a one-point gap over Liverpool and Aston Villa with the league one game away from the halfway point, with Tottenham and Manchester City, who have a game in hand, four and six points further back from the Gunners.
“It allows us to have a beautiful Christmas dinner with our families and come back to work the next day because we have to prepare against West Ham really well,” said Arteta
“We absolutely came through it, the boys were incredible. It was one of the most intense, hectic games I have witnessed in 20 years in this league. And that says a lot.
“It was two unbelievable teams that really raised the bar to a different level. Both wanted to win it and there were moments for each side even though at that end in the last 15 to 20 minutes our team really wanted to win the game and didn’t find the right pass or quality moment at the end to achieve that.”
Arsenal took just 30 seconds to get going at Anfield with Saka’s cross palmed out by Alisson and Gabriel Jesus’ shot deflected over.
From the resulting corner, Jesus hit straight at Alisson but Arsenal took the lead from their next set piece. Odegaard whipped in the free-kick and Gabriel was unmarked to nod past Alisson with ease, VAR confirming the defender was marginally onside.
The Anfield faithful, summoned by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp this week to make a good atmosphere, was not dampened by the early Arsenal goal and Salah benefited from Zinchenko’s lapse in concentration in the box but could only hit the side netting.
Then came the first real contentious moment of the game as Odegaard appeared to handle inside the box under pressure from Salah, but VAR took a long look at the check and turned down the appeals.
Odegaard then joined Jesus in firing wide of the Liverpool goal on the break, before Liverpool clawed themselves back on the scoreboard. Alexander-Arnold played a glorious ball into Salah down the right channel and the Egyptian burst past Zinchenko with ease to blast past Raya.
Arsenal saw the opportunity to hang on until the half-time whistle but there was one remaining big chance for the visitors.
Jesus played Saka through on goal but Alisson distracted him as he tried to round him. Saka teed up Gabriel Martinelli who fired wide with the Liverpool goalkeeper and defence on the line.
Liverpool came out for the second half shooting into the Kop and immediately started forcing errors from the Arsenal midfield.
First, Odegaard was pickpocketed deep in his half and Salah saw a shot deflected into Raya’s path. Then Zinchenko gave the ball away and only a last-minute interception from Declan Rice stopped a Liverpool second.
Liverpool kept on coming and substitute Joe Gomez, who replaced Kostas Tsimikas in the first half with a nasty shoulder injury after colliding with Klopp on the touchline, curled just wide of Raya’s far post.
Arsenal managed to weather the storm by stepping on the ball a bit more – but did not create too many second-half chances. The same couldn’t be said for Liverpool.
Substitute Harvey Elliott cut inside from the right and saw a deflected effort strike the outside of the post, but the best chance of the evening fell to Alexander-Arnold.
The chance came from an Arsenal corner where a mix-up between Zinchenko and Odegaard allowed Salah to break with five others. Salah found Alexander-Arnold inside the box but he could only crash the ball onto the bar, leaving the Kop aghast.
Gomez tested Raya’s palms with a near post effort shortly afterwards, but Arsenal maintained their top spot – and status of the best defensive team in the league – by holding onto this point.
Arteta: This is what our team is about
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta:
“They are the best team in the world at when the ball goes out of play, you have a good chance with Gabriel Jesus and within five seconds the ball is in your box! Look what happens in the corner, big chance to score and within six seconds it’s five on one. But they are so good, they have been doing it for many years, they are exceptional and a great team.
“Absolutely, [fighting fire with fire] is the intention, this is what this team is about. One thing is to say it and another is to do it against a team who plays at that level in that atmosphere today. Huge credit to the boys, they made another big step to believe we can go to any ground and deliver these type of performances.
“We missed some big players last year when we came here. And with the game they propose, there are certain and crucial elements if you want to win the ball back well. Today we have done that very well. We were comfortable, we knew the game we had to play at times. And then there were other moments.
“It [being top at Christmas for two years in a row] shows the consistency. We have been doing it for two years now, being in the same position, being in a good position in the Champions League too.”