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Premier League

  • March 3, 2012
  • • 12:45
  • • Anfield, Liverpool
  • Referee: M. Halsey
  • • Attendance: 44922
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Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal: Van Persie hits stunning stoppage-time winner as comeback dents Reds' top-four hopes

Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal: Van Persie hits stunning stoppage-time winner as comeback dents Reds' top-four hopes

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The Dutchman scored twice at Anfield to seal all three points for the visitors who move 10 points clear of Kenny Dalglish's team in the race for Champions League qualification

Robin van Persie's stunning double condemned Liverpool to a first home league defeat of the season as Arsenal recorded a fortuitous 2-1 win to take control of the race for the top four.

The result means Kenny Dalglish’s men still have only one Premier League victory to their name in 2012, and are now 10 points behind the Gunners with a game in hand as the season enters its final stages.

Arsenal, meanwhile, have now extended their unbeaten run in the league to five matches and will be delighted to emerge with a victory from one of their hardest remaining fixtures.

With so much at stake, both managers kept faith with the majority of the players who helped their teams enjoy morale-boosting victories last weekend.

Reds boss Dalglish was forced to make do without captain Steven Gerrard, injured on England duty on Wednesday evening. League Cup final hero Dirk Kuyt was preferred to Andy Carroll alongside Luis Suarez up front, while Jamie Carragher, Martin Kelly and Jay Spearing were also handed starts.

Despite injury concerns after their international participation in midweek, both Robin van Persie and Thomas Vermaelen started for Arsenal, as boss Arsene Wenger elected to field an unchanged side to the one which came back to stun Tottenham 5-2 a week ago.

Flushed with recent success, both sides began in confident mood, stroking the ball around with speed and assurance. Chances were at a premium in the early moments, but it was the Arsenal defence which looked the more vulnerable in the face of Liverpool pressure, with Suarez in particular causing problems.

The Uruguayan forced Wojciech Szczesny into an awkward headed clearance outside his area before Jordan Henderson wasted a promising two-on-one situation.

Moments later, the hosts spurned a golden opportunity to break the deadlock. Referee Mark Halsey rightly awarded a penalty when Suarez was felled in the box by Szczesny, but the Pole redeemed himself superbly by saving both Kuyt’s initial penalty and the scuffed rebound.

The score remained goalless but the Arsenal defence were still getting caught out repeatedly high up the pitch, and this escape simply postponed the inevitable. Henderson soon found himself in acres of space on the right flank, and his dangerous cross was inadvertently turned into his own net by Laurent Koscielny as he tried to clear.

Having seized the initiative, Liverpool poured forward in a bid to increase their superiority. A neat move from the left to the right flank again found Henderson all on his own and, after his low shot was parried by Szczesny, Suarez crashed the rebound against the post.

But just as a Reds second looked imminent, Arsenal equalised with their first clear chance of the game. Bacary Sagna curled a superb cross in from deep and Van Persie showed good strength to hold off Carragher before powering a header beyond Reina.

Stung by this setback, the hosts attacked with fresh vigour. Suarez’s brilliant jinking run and shot forced another top save from Szczesny, before Kuyt glanced a pinpoint Charlie Adam cross against the woodwork. Despite the hosts’ best efforts, however, Arsenal managed to escape to the interval on level terms.

The visitors sought to gain a foothold after the break, but they suffered a blow almost immediately when Mikel Arteta had to be stretchered off after a nasty looking accidental collision with Henderson. Abou Diaby replaced the Spaniard to make only his third appearance of the season.

Arsenal now enjoyed a greater share of possession in the midfield, but it was Liverpool who still posed the greater attacking threat, and Szczesny had to be brave to parry away Spearing’s knock-down with Kelly bearing down upon him.

Neither side looked particularly convincing when dealing with deliveries from wide areas, and moments after Kelly had missed a gilt-edged chance to put Liverpool back in front when he failed to make any clean contact with Kuyt’s precise centre, Reina denied Theo Walcott’s deflected strike with his trailing legs.

Tiring legs saw gaps begin to appear, but neither side appeared to have the composure to take full advantage. Stewart Downing’s poor cross denied Suarez a simple tap-in, and moments later the former Middlesbrough man lashed wide from long range.

But just as the game appeared to be petering out into a draw, another piece of brilliance from Van Persie won it. Having once again escaped the attentions of Carragher, the Dutchman met Alex Song's stunningly precise chipped pass with a sumptuous volley which flew past Reina.

Liverpool poured forward but never looked like equalising, and now face a huge challenge to secure Champions League football next season.

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