One week ago, Arsenal beat West Ham 5-1, with four goals in seven minutes, after being held 1-1 at halftime. One month ago, Arsenal beat Newcastle 7-3 after being held 1-1 after halftime. No side has scored more goals at home than Arsenal. So maybe it's not incredibly surprising that Arsenal scored twice in three minutes against a constantly-pinned-back Liverpool.
That said, anytime you lose a two-goal lead is a massive failure. Liverpool have now drawn two games this season after going 2-0 up: at Everton and at Arsenal. Incidentally, those are the two clubs directly ahead of Liverpool in the table. Funny how that works, huh?
Some responsibility for both of Liverpool's goals is due to Arsenal mistakes. Both of Arsenal's goals were quite well-taken. That doesn't make it better either.
It was a dream start when Liverpool scored within five minutes, and it was a comedy of errors from the home side. Sagna's slip allowed Johnson in behind when there had been no threat, Vermaelen hilariously whiffed when attempting to cut out the cross, and while Szczesny made an excellent save on Sturridge, Wilshere deflected the ball straight to Henderson, who laid off to an open Suarez, his shot finding the back of the net via Mertesacker's deflection.
Arsenal's best chance of the half came almost immediately after Liverpool scored – keep this in mind for later – that dangerous period when a contented side goes to sleep. Wilshere's excellent throughball somehow made its way to Walcott between Johnson and Agger, but Reina somehow parried the point-blank shot.
The rest of the half proceeded in a similar vein: Arsenal pressed, Arsenal attacked, Liverpool held them at bay, and Liverpool countered. Liverpool's first half possession – 40.7% – was a low for a single half this season. Until the second half.
But with Carragher and Agger defending resolutely, Suarez tracking back well down the left, Henderson shuttling all over the pitch, and Gerrard utterly immense, Arsenal struggled to find an equalizer. Reina made another save on a Walcott shot, Giroud fired wide, and Liverpool defenders blocked three dangerous chances. But it's not as if Liverpool couldn't respond, and were unlucky not to extend its lead before the interval with Arsenal's defense looking capable of a mistake at any opportunity. Suarez and Sturridge shot narrowly wide on separate counters – Sturridge's set up by a jaw-dropping pass from Suarez – Agger had a header from a corner cleared off the line, and a Henderson chip with Szczesny stranded barely ended up on the roof of the net rather than in it.
The second half started as the first half went, with Liverpool finally getting the second on the hour, again with help from Arsenal's error-prone back four. But saying that goal came from an Arsenal error doesn't do Jordan Henderson justice. Sturridge passed the ball to the midfielder with both Mertesacker and Santos blocking his path to goal. Somehow, Henderson slipped between them, leaving Mertesacker kicking at air while he held off Santos and ran at Szczesny. Ramsey blocked Henderson's first shot, but despite being out-numbered five to one by Arsenal players, Henderson was first to the rebound, slotting into the empty net.
Rather than killing the game, the second goal marked a complete transformation. Arsenal may have had near-permanent pressure throughout the match, but Liverpool arguably had the better chances until Giroud scored. That stopped being the case as soon as Arsenal pulled one, then two back in quick succession.
Once again, Liverpool somewhat shut off after scoring. Podolski could have gotten the first sooner, barely missing with a fierce blast from 20 yards out after squirming through Liverpool's midfield. Then came Giroud's set play header, left open when Agger misjudged the flight of the ball. From Arsenal's next attack came Arsenal's next goal, again from Liverpool's left. Liverpool failed to fully clear after Walcott's cross; Cazorla, Sagna, Giroud threaded the ball in front of and through Liverpool's ever-deeper defense, with Walcott firing past a surprisingly static Reina from next to no angle, finally finding the outstanding finish he'd been threatening.
From there, it was all Arsenal until Suarez almost won it in injury time. Liverpool stemmed the tide for about 15 minutes, but after the 80th, Cazorla shot across the face of goal with no Arsenal player able to tap it in, Reina denied Giroud's blast from the top of the box, and then the Frenchman missed a sitter, unable to sort his feet out to tap in Podolski's low cross. Suarez nearly won it singlehandedly at the death, winning possession in the center circle, getting the return ball from Downing, and blasting at goal, forcing a save from Szczesny and with Enrique and Henderson inches away from the rebound. As against Everton, no such luck with a late winner to save face. At least this time it wasn't cruelly and wrongly denied.
There will undoubtedly be over-the-top criticism of both Rodgers and Liverpool after losing that lead. Which is understandable given everyone's frustration. It was surprising to see Liverpool defend so deeply, happy to concede possession, almost as if we were watching Hodgson or Dalglish's wins over Chelsea in 2010-11. Which, despite the opposition, is exactly the type of game Carragher thrives in, with a man-of-the-match performance today (along with Henderson and Gerrard). Of course, it also limited Liverpool's attacking prowess, but as Oldham proved, sorting out Liverpool's midfield and defense seems slightly more important.
It was less surprising to see Rodgers unwilling to make attacking substitutions. The only real complaint is that Downing again, mindbogglingly, stayed on the pitch rather than bringing on Sterling or Borini. But that Enrique replaced Sturridge in the 71st isn't one of the reasons for criticism. For one, Sturridge is still finding fitness and injuries and a lack of matches, having played 90 terrible minutes at Oldham. In addition, that substitution did what it was designed to: stop Theo Walcott, who won the free kick for the first goal and scored the second. All three of those Arsenal chances after the substitution came from the opposite flank. When Liverpool concede once, they often concede twice, and frequently concede three. At that point, keeping the 2-2 scoreline and continuing to try for the counter-attack makes a certain amount of sense, if depressing sense. A draw is disappointing after the first hour, but Liverpool could not could not could not lose that match.
Not that it matters, but would I have taken a draw before kickoff? Probably. Last year's win at Arsenal was something of an aberration, with eight key Arsenal players missing; before that, Liverpool had drawn four and lost three in the previous trips to the Emirates. And Arsenal totally mopped the floor with Liverpool in the reverse fixture. Some credit where it's due: despite those defensive errors, Arsenal were pretty good today, at least in midfield and attack; Wilshere and Ramsey were outstanding, requiring Gerrard and Henderson to be at their best (especially since Lucas wasn't), Giroud and Walcott were frequent threats.
Still, losing a two-goal lead is cause for righteous anger, throwing away what had been an excellent defensive performance. No matter the opposition, no matter the location. Liverpool, still yet to beat any side above them, desperately needed that win, and with less than half an hour to play, looked likely to register that win.
Somehow, Sunday's match at Manchester City is now even more important. Under pressure...