Salah’s stunning strike earns Liverpool draw but Arsenal stay top of table

Mohamed Salah cuts inside to score Liverpool’s equaliser. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Arsenal’s position at Christmas and point at Anfield are the same as last season, but Arsenal are not the same as last season. Mikel Arteta’s team top the Premier League for the second Christmas in succession courtesy of some luck here, but also the resilience, composure and belief that deserted them at critical moments in their last title challenge. Anfield, so often a scene of torment for the Gunners, provided hope.

There was no statement victory for either of the top two, and no quarter given in an enthralling draw that left Jürgen Klopp pondering what might have been. Twice the Liverpool manager was brought to his knees. Firstly, when Kostas Tsimikas ploughed into him and suffered a broken collarbone. Secondly, when Trent Alexander-Arnold smacked a glorious late chance to send Liverpool top against David Raya’s crossbar. Klopp also felt his team should have had a penalty when Martin Ødegaard escaped a handball review inside his own area.

But Arsenal would not be ground down. Arteta’s side led the corresponding fixture last season 2-0 after 28 minutes and were deflated to leave with a 2-2 draw. They led again here through Gabriel Magalhães’s early header before being pegged back by Mohamed Salah’s brilliant strike from Alexander-Arnold’s astonishing pass. But this time Arteta could depart enthused by the outcome and Arsenal’s performance level. William Saliba was outstanding in repelling Liverpool’s second-half pressure alongside Gabriel while Declan Rice commanded central midfield.

Klopp’s complaints about the Anfield atmosphere during the Carabao Cup rout of West Ham on Wednesday did the trick. The place was rocking as soon as the two teams emerged, the noise befitting a contest to decide who would take the No 1 spot at Christmas. Arsenal signalled a determination to make it theirs from the first whistle.

The visitors led inside four minutes. It was their third clear attempt on Alisson’s goal during a blistering start reminiscent of what Liverpool often subject opponents to at Anfield. Liverpool’s defence was prised open after 30 seconds when Gabriel Jesus dispossessed Wataru Endo. Alisson flicked Bukayo Saka’s dangerous low cross out to Jesus on the edge of the area, where the striker’s goal-bound shot deflected off Ibrahima Konaté and over the stranded goalkeeper’s bar. Jesus headed the resulting corner from Saka straight into Alisson’s arms.

Gabriel Magalhães gives Arsenal the lead in what Mikel Arteta called ‘one of the most intense and hectic games I’ve witnessed in this league’. Photograph: David Price/Arsenal FC/Getty Images

Arsenal were just warming up, and punished more uncertain Liverpool defending moments later. Konaté’s foul on Kai Havertz presented Ødegaard with a free-kick on the left. Arsenal’s movement bewildered Liverpool, enabling Gabriel to ease in front of Konaté and send a powerful header beyond the stranded Alisson. The goal stood after an unnecessarily long VAR check for offside against Gabriel.

With Ødegaard and Rice oozing authority and class in central midfield, Saka and Jesus retaining possession under pressure in attack and Gabriel and Saliba excelling, Arsenal established control and could have doubled their lead through Jesus and Ødegaard. Liverpool’s first response was a Salah volley into the side-netting from an Endo cross. They had a strong appeal for a penalty when Ødegaard handled while slipping inside his area but both referee Chris Kavanagh and the VAR showed leniency.

Arsenal’s confidence was growing when they were undone by two touches of Liverpool brilliance. The first came from Alexander-Arnold in his guise as a Premier League quarter-back minus the helmet and shoulder pads. Standing deep inside his own half, he waited, and waited, and waited for an option to appear. Then he pinged a 70-yard pass over Oleksandr Zinchenko into Salah. The angle appeared against Liverpool’s leading goalscorer until he cut back inside the Arsenal defender and unleashed an unstoppable finish inside Raya’s near post. A stunning goal.

Liverpool suffered an unfortunate and serious injury setback while the celebrations were still in full swing. Tsimikas and Saka were embroiled in a physical battle from the outset and the left-back was sent tumbling into Klopp when pushed by the Arsenal winger. The defender was immediately replaced by Joe Gomez and taken to hospital with a broken collarbone. Liverpool’s first choice left-back, Andy Robertson, is currently recovering from a dislocated shoulder.

Arsenal should have retaken the lead when Rice played Saka through with an exquisite pass. A heavy touch thwarted his attempt to round Alisson but fell to Martinelli, who stepped inside Konaté but pulled his shot wide with two Liverpool players on the line.

It was a pulsating game, with no letup between two quality teams giving everything for victory. Gomez went close to finally scoring for Liverpool with a shot that curled around Raya but also the far post. Alexander-Arnold had a glorious chance to win it when Ødegaard and Zinchenko clattered into each other following an Arsenal corner and Liverpool broke in overwhelming numbers. Salah led the charge and teed up the defender as he swept into the box, but his placed finish smacked the bar and cannoned clear. Klopp sank to his knees once again but ended up embracing Arteta on the final whistle with a broad smile. Pep Guardiola, however, was arguably the happier of the title-chasing managers.