Eight minutes from perfection.
Liverpool are back on top of the Premier League, but they’ll have left the Emirates Stadium with more than a few regrets after Saturday evening's 1-1 draw. Jurgen Klopp’s side were on the brink of a huge result, a statement victory, only for Alexandre Lacazette to turn up and spoil the party.
Arsenal, fairly, will feel they merited a point here. Liverpool, meanwhile, can reflect on a useful point away from home at a top-six rival. Another one.
For Klopp, though, there will be frustration at his side’s inability to see the game out following James Milner’s second-half strike. The Reds have equalled their best ever start to a Premier League campaign, but they could well have bettered it. They will expect to surrender top spot when Manchester City take on Southampton on Sunday. Pep Guardiola's side are setting a furious pace, which means that any points dropped can feel costly. There's no such thing as "a good draw" at the moment.
Liverpool will rue a few key moments here: a Sadio Mane goal incorrectly ruled out in the first half; efforts against the woodwork from Roberto Firmino and Virgil van Dijk; and a headed chance for the latter after the break at 1-0. In the end, though, they were punished by Lacazette’s fine 82nd-minute finish after Arsenal, for once, got in behind the excellent Van Dijk and Joe Gomez.
Arsenal remain in touch with the leading pack, their unbeaten run under Unai Emery extended to 14 games in all competitions. They remain the kings of the second half, with 19 of their 25 league goals coming after the break so far, and 10 of their last 11.
In the grand scheme of things, Liverpool will accept a point from a difficult away fixture such as this. As Klopp reasoned afterwards, "It's not possible to come here and dominate Arsenal like we want. A point will always be a success at Arsenal."
Indeed, and that’s five points from visits to Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal now – a significant improvement on last season’s results, and achieved when still some way short of their best.
The Liverpool manager had been clear in his belief that this game would test his side’s credentials. Arsenal look an emerging force under Emery, whose clearly-defined way of playing is starting to bear fruit. The Gunners contributed plenty to an absorbing contest, though in truth both sides failed to hit top form.
Liverpool, though, had the game in their palm after Milner’s 61st-minute strike. It was the captain’s 50th Premier League goal, and his first from open play since March 2016. In 49 league matches where he has scored, his team have never lost - a remarkable run.
It was a tidy finish, too, tucked away smartly after Bernd Leno – via Rob Holding – had parried Mane’s driven cross into his path. At that point, it looked like the visitors were set to continue their habit of winning ugly, and had Van Dijk directed his powerful header either side of Leno soon after, they surely would have done.
Again, they were far from their best, unnerved at times by Arsenal’s energy and incisiveness, particularly in wide areas. Fabinho, starting a high-profile Premier League game for the first time, looked particularly rattled, while Trent Alexander-Arnold, at right-back, was clearly targeted by the Gunners. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Sead Kolasinac had plenty of joy down that side.
Going forward, Liverpool were left to rely on moments rather than periods of sustained quality. Mohamed Salah was prominent early but wasteful too often – when he squandered a late chance to play in Mane for a winner, it rather summed up his day. Mane and Roberto Firmino, meanwhile, offered too little. It was a surprise that Daniel Sturridge remained unused, while Xherdan Shaqiri was brought on late.
Still, there was much to admire about the way in which Van Dijk and Gomez, a burgeoning partnership, mopped up defensively, and in the persistence of Andy Robertson in getting forward from left-back. The Scot’s battle with Hector Bellerin was one of the game’s more intriguing sub-plots.
Klopp, though, will bemoan his midfield’s lack of control and incision, and his front players’ lethargy. He was his usual animated self on the sideline, though on reflection he was happy with the point.
So too were Arsenal. “The draw was the right result,” said Lacazette when interviewed immediately after the final whistle. Alex Iwobi, whose pass created the equaliser, agreed.
Milner was less enthused. “Disappointing,” he said. “These are the games we would like to see out. We can do better at both ends.”
He’s right. Improvement is almost certainly still to come from this side, though you could say the fact that Liverpool are disappointed with a point away at Arsenal is indicative of the progress Klopp’s team has made.
A decent result, but one which could have been so much better.