LONDON — Arsenal scored three times in five minutes to wipe out Liverpool’s two-goal lead before capitulating again to draw a wild English Premier League encounter 3-3 on Friday.
Such were the depths of Arsenal’s defensive ineptitude that the players were booed off at halftime at Emirates Stadium. And that was only when Arsene Wenger’s side was trailing 1-0 following Philippe Coutinho’s header.
Arsenal’s troubles deepened seven minutes into the second half when Mohamed Salah was gifted even more space to double Liverpool’s lead.
But inside 388 seconds, Arsenal was a force transformed. Liverpool paid the price.
Showing the desire and assertiveness completely missing in the first half, Arsenal pulled level through Alexis Sanchez and Granit Xhaka by the 56th minute.
Much to the fury of Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp, Mesut Ozil was able to dink the ball over goalkeeper Simon Mignolet to send Arsenal into a 58th-minute lead that seemed improbable minutes earlier.
“At this level you’ve got to see the game out,” Liverpool midfielder James Milner said. “You’ve got to be more boring.”
But on a night when defensive and goalkeeping calamities showed why Arsenal and Liverpool are already out of the title race at the midway point, the hosts could not hold on to the lead. Roberto Firmino had the last say, putting the ball under Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech in the 71st.
The draw kept Liverpool in the fourth and final Champions League qualification place, 17 points behind City.
Arsenal is a further point behind Liverpool in fifth but looked set to be far worse off heading into the packed festive program based on the first-half performance.
Arsenal was being carved apart by an attacking unit that was as cohesive as its defense was disjointed.
A counterattack by Liverpool was launched by Milner’s long ball that set Salah free. The Egypt forward cut into the penalty area and delivered a cross that Coutinho met with a glancing header to mark his 150th Premier League appearance with a goal.
“We were paralyzed and frozen,” Wenger said. “We played too deep. We gave too many balls away.”
The damage could have been far worse for Arsenal before the break. Firmino curled over the crossbar, Cech blocked Salah’s shot, and Sadio Mane hooked over with an elaborate acrobatic kick.
“It could have been game over at halftime,” Wenger said, “because we played a nightmare first half.”
It became a complete horror show for Arsenal once Firmino fed Salah to run through on goal for Liverpool’s second, but not for long.
“We play such good football going forward,” Milner said, “and maybe sometimes we need to switch that off for five or 10 minutes. We need to play it a bit tighter.”
That was certainly not applied in the frenzied five-minute spell that turned the game on its head.
There was a back-heel from Xhaka, a cross from Bellerin, and a diving header from Sanchez that started the comeback in the 53rd.
Within three minutes, Arsenal was level. As Alex Iwobi attacked down the right, Xhaka drifted into space unchecked by the Liverpool defense to receive a pass and then unleash a swerving shot from distance that caught out Mignolet.
“He misjudged it,” Klopp said of his goalkeeper.
Worse was to come for the visitors. Alexandre Lacazett’s back heel set up Ozil’s chip over Mignolet.
“Defending is a team thing,” Klopp said. “Today we make individual mistakes and that is not cool.”
At least for Klopp, Arsenal was as fragile at the back — ensuring Salah and Emre Can could combine to set up Firmino to ensure Liverpool still left north London with a point. It should have been three.
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