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Four goals from Andrey Arshavin put a huge dent in Liverpool’s Barclays Premier League title hopes as Arsenal drew 4-4 at Anfield.
The hosts went ahead of Manchester United on goal difference having come from behind three times, starting with Arshavin’s first in the 36th minute. Fernando Torres and Yossi Benayoun scored soon after the interval but three further goals from the Russian Gunner piled the pressure back on Rafael Benitez’s side and even a second from Torres and an injury-time equaliser from Benayoun were not enough to force victory.
The result hands a huge advantage to United, who have two matches in hand with the first at home to Portsmouth.
Liverpool were architects of their own downfall as the first three Arsenal goals came from mistakes.
It was almost a carbon copy of their Champions League exit against Chelsea a week ago when a 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge saw them miss out on the semi-finals. It was also not the first time Arsenal had done serious damage to a Liverpool title challenge, it being 20 years since Michael Thomas scored on this ground with the last kick of the season to deny the Reds the championship.
Torres and Albert Riera should have done better with their early efforts to test the fragile confidence of Lucasz Fabianski but both fired straight at the goalkeeper.
Javier Mascherano fired wide after 15 minutes as Arsenal were content to soak up what Liverpool had to offer and swiftly counter-attack when the chance arose.
Those occasions were few and far between and Fabianski, who had looked shaky on a couple of occasions, had to be at his best to tip over Torres’ shot from the right angle of the penalty area.
Referee Howard Webb waved away Liverpool appeals in the 26th minute when Mikael Silvestre appeared to catch Dirk Kuyt on the edge of the area.
Arsenal’s first chance came when they broke quickly from a Liverpool corner and Cesc Fabregas volleyed wide after Daniel Agger, making his 50th league appearance, had got in Jose Reina’s way as he tried to punch clear.
A smart turn by Torres on Kolo Toure saw the Spain striker fire in a 25-yard shot which Fabianski could only parry but Silvestre cleared the danger.
Samir Nasri then had to clear off the line at the far post after Agger flicked on Xabi Alonso’s right-wing corner before the Gunners hit their hosts with a sucker punch in the 36th minute.
Mascherano lost the ball on the edge of the penalty area and Fabregas exchanged passes with Nasri before crossing for Arshavin to fire home off the underside of the crossbar.
Benayoun immediately brought a diving save from Fabianski and then headed over as Liverpool piled on the pressure leading up to the interval without reward. Liverpool realistically had 45 minutes to keep their season alive and that realisation brought the equaliser within four minutes of the restart. Alvaro Arbeloa’s cross was poorly dealt with by Bacary Sagna and Kuyt collected the ball, got to the byline and crossed for Torres to head low into the left corner of Fabianski’s goal.
Seven minutes later they were ahead. Fabianski and Kieren Gibbs both misjudged their clearances and Kuyt crossed to the far post where Benayoun headed in.
The goalkeeper claimed to have clawed the ball out but it was clearly over the line. In the 65th minute Arsene Wenger brought on Theo Walcott for Denilson to try to get back in the game but it was another mistake which brought their equaliser.
Arbeloa could not control Jamie Carragher’s downward defensive header and Arshavin nipped in to fire past Reina’s outstretched left hand.
Incredibly for a team which had conceded just eight goals in 16 home league matches a third error handed Arsenal the lead again.
Fabio Aurelio played a left-wing cross straight to Arshavin 10 yards out and he drilled a shot under Reina for his hat-trick in the 70th minute.
Amazingly Liverpool were level again two minutes later when Torres controlled Riera’s cross, turned Silvestre and fired past Fabianski.
Torres had a header cleared off the line by Gibbs from Alonso’s corner with nine minutes to go and Carragher fired over from Aurelio’s cross as Liverpool desperately pushed for the winner.
And that cost them as Walcott broke from a corner and played in Arshavin to score his fourth in injury time. Benayoun bundled home an equaliser even later on but it was too late to force a victory.
Scorer: Torres (49, 72)
Scorer: Benayoun (55, 90)
Scorer: Arshavin (35, 66, 69, 90)
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