Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel heads home Liverpool’s equaliser in injury time at Anfield.
Brendan Rodgers branded Alexis Sanchez a diver and claimed a Champions League place is not out of Liverpool’s reach despite his team drawing 2-2 with Arsenal.
Martin Skrtel’s 97th-minute header rescued a deserved point for Liverpool at Anfield, where Olivier Giroud’s second-half finish had put Arsene Wenger’s team in sight of victory and Fabio Borini was sent off for two bookable offences.
Liverpool’s equaliser arrived during nine minutes of time added-on for a head injury suffered earlier by Skrtel, who required stitches after being accidentally caught by Giroud’s boot.
The Liverpool manager claimed his team’s performance was evidence that “we are moving in the right direction” after a turbulent period.
Arsenal had only 35 per cent possession, their lowest total since records commenced in 2003, and seven attempts on goal compared to Liverpool’s 27. But Rodgers was unhappy at the manner of Arsenal’s two goals, and in particular the free-kick award that led to Mathieu Debuchy’s first-half equaliser.
“I thought we were brilliant,” said Rodgers. “To concede three shots on target and dominate possession against one of the top teams in Europe at keeping the ball was excellent. I saw our ideas starting to return but we need to make better decisions defensively.
“We do lots of defensive work religiously but a lot of the goals we give away are poor ones.
“I didn’t think it was a free-kick. I think Sanchez dived when he realised he was not getting the ball. But to lose three one-on-one headers in the box is not about organisation, it’s about winning duels and we have to be better than that.”
The draw leaves Liverpool 10th, nine points behind fourth-placed West Ham United, and no team with 22 points from 17 games have finished higher than sixth in a Premier League season.
But asked if Liverpool could mount a challenge for the top four, Rodgers replied: “Yes, absolutely. That was always going to be a big challenge this season with the teams above us and we have to make up points over the next part of the season, but this is a group that can go on a good run.
“Last season we won 11 games in a row. Do that again and we can very quickly move up the table. The most important thing today was the confidence in the team and with Daniel Sturridge coming back in January, that will give the team a real boost. There is work to do but we are moving in the right direction.“
Wenger was left frustrated by Arsenal’s poor defending for Skrtel’s late goal but admitted his team’s performance was unimpressive.
He believes memories of February’s 5-1 mauling by Liverpool at Anfield weighed down his players on their return.
He said: “We had problems to get our game flowing. We didn’t have enough possession in the game. In the first half I felt it was down to tactical and psychological reasons. Maybe there were bad memories from last season and that played a part.
“Some players weren’t at their best today. I felt we played with the handbrake on a little bit, in the first half especially. We played with three strikers, plus Chamberlain, plus Cazorla, and that’s basically five offensive players and I felt that we didn’t create enough.“
Wenger added: “In the second half, we blocked them much better. But when we were 2-1 up, we just let them come at us and didn’t come out enough to score a third goal. And as long as you don’t score goal number three you are under threat to concede a second goal.
“Once they were down to 10 men they were not dangerous any more, but we conceded a corner which was a bit unlucky and where we were guilty – we didn’t jump at all with Skrtel on the corner.
“Overall, it was a fair result for the whole 90 minutes. But it’s a frustrating result for us because they came back into a game where we had plenty of defenders on the pitch and we should defend the set-piece much better.
“It is frustrating because they came back to 2-2 but overall it’s not the most frustrating day of the season today.“
Skrtel required lengthy treatment on the pitch after the collision with Giroud but Rodgers insisted there was no prospect of the Slovakian defender being withdrawn. “Martin is such a strong character,” said the Liverpool manager.
“Thankfully he stayed on and scored with a great header. He’s a real warrior and has been outstanding since getting back in the team over a year ago.” Guardian Service