A sensational strike from Andrey Arshavin clinched a vital victory for Arsenal at Anfield that saw them make up ground on the top two and piled further misery onto Rafa Benitez's Liverpool. The little Russian's fizzing drive flew in off the post and was the one moment of true class in an otherwise forgettable encounter. It was a goal worthy of winning any game.
The Gunners had to come from behind to take the points after having been on the rack for much of the first half and they were somewhat fortunate to go in at the break only one down. Torres spurned a decent chance and Gerrard had a penalty claim turned down that would have been awarded most other weekends. Liverpool deservedly took the lead in the 41st minute when Fabio Aurelio floated an innocuous freekick into the box. Manuel Almunia came for it but could only ineffectually palm it out to Dirk Kuyt who steered the ball home. Despite having to wade through bodies, it was weak and indecisive goalkeeping from the Spaniard who still looks short on confidence and does not command the area as strongly as he should.
After the interval though, the tide turned entirely. Arsenal started the second period far more purposefully and when Glen Johnson netted an own goal in the 50th minute to level the scores, the Gunners were right back in it. Eight minutes later, Arshavin compounded Johnson’s agony by stepping inside him on the edge of the area and despatching a thunderous shot into the net before the hapless England full-back - and indeed Reina in the Liverpool goal - knew what had hit them. The Russian scored some truly special goals in last season’s 4-4 thriller at Anfield and this strike was comparable with the best of them.
The remainder of the match was something of a bloodless stalemate. Liverpool could not summon the momentum to fashion an equaliser and Arsenal rarely looked like adding to the margin of victory. Still, it has often been said about this team that they don’t win regularly enough when they are playing badly, particularly away from home, but today they did just that. Though far from their best, once they got in front, they looked comfortable enough in holding their lead.
Whatever gripes there might be about aspects of the performance, the most important thing was the outcome and this was a very big result indeed. It capped a weekend that was something of a dream for Arsenal supporters. With Spurs and Manchester United losing and Chelsea only managing a spluttering draw, taking three points at Anfield could not have been any sweeter. It is a result that gives the Gunners a little bit of breathing space ahead of the teams lining up behind them trying to break into the top four and it also pegs back a few points on Chelsea and Manchester United.
In recent weeks, the Gunners have looked a long way from being title-contenders and that perception was not particularly altered by the manner of the display at Anfield, even though the result was fantastic. But, regardless of how they might look, the table does not lie and no one is running away with it yet this season. With Chelsea and Manchester United showing that they are both capable of dropping points and losing games, as the title-race reaches its midway point, it is still wide open. Now only six points behind the leaders with a game in hand, Arsenal are definitely still in it.
Coming up is the hazardous Christmas period when the games come thick and fast and the resources of all squads are stretched to the maximum. Before then though, Arsene Wenger’s men travel to Turf Moor on Wednesday night to face a Burnley team who have proved they are no mugs on their own patch. Most notably this season, they have held Aston Villa to a draw and beaten Manchester United and the Gunners would be foolish to underestimate them in front of their own fans.
After defeats at Old Trafford, Eastlands and the Stadium of Light, the victory at Anfield ought to give the players some confidence that they are capable of picking up points at difficult away grounds. Certainly, that is a habit they need to cultivate if they are to keep themselves in contention and there is no doubt that a cold December Wednesday night at Burnley in front of a vociferous support will be a real test of their mettle.