Arsenal’s title credentials were given a thorough examination at Anfield as the leaders squandered the chance for a first win since 2012 but emerged just about unscathed from a 2-2 draw that opened the door for rivals Manchester City.
Having taken a comfortable 2-0 lead inside half-an-hour through Gabriel Martinelli and Gabriel Jesus, Granit Xhaka’s inexplicable decision to clatter into Trent Alexander-Arnold off the ball lit the fuse and turned what had been something of a procession into a fiery encounter.
Mohamed Salah’s goal just before the break posed a few questions for Mikel Arteta’s side and while they were fortunate the Egypt international missed an early second-half penalty, Roberto Firmino’s late equaliser meant the Gunners’ lead over City was reduced to six points over the weekend having played a game more.
The pressure looked like it was starting to tell on Arsenal as Salah, twice, and Ibrahima Konate all had chances to snatch a winner late on, but they managed to leave with a vital point.
But for all the tetchiness on the pitch the most controversial, and frankly bizarre, incident came at half-time, with assistant referee Constantine Hatzidakis’ apparent elbow on defender Andy Robertson as he complained to the official having already sparked an investigation from refereeing body PGMOL.
Having coasted into a comfortable lead courtesy of what has become increasingly common lax defending, Arsenal had the game completely under their control only to start a scrap by needlessly antagonising their opponents and the home crowd.
They should have learned their lesson from last season when Arteta picked a fight with Jurgen Klopp on the touchline with the match goalless and left Anfield with his tail between his legs after a 4-0 humbling.
However, this Arsenal team are much more streetwise and they used that nous to break up play and slow down the tempo whenever they had the chance.
The fact their 2-0 lead had been attained so easily should have made the job all the more simpler as the grumbles were ringing around Anfield at every missed challenge by the hosts and every occasion one of the visitors went to ground to halt play.
An impeccably-observed minute’s silence for the 34th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster next week was the only respect shown by Arsenal as they tore into a Liverpool side who had not conceded at home in the league this year.
Bukayo Saka, back in the side as the only change to last weekend’s win over Leeds, ran at the defence and when the ball bounced kindly off Virgil van Dijk, Martinelli fired into the net after just eight minutes.
Liverpool were grateful for Jesus ballooning over an open goal at the far post from a cross by Saka, who was giving left-back Robertson numerous problems, but their relief did not last long.
After Robertson won a rare 50-50 to dispossess Saka and start the move from which he eventually dragged a shot wide, the Scotland captain was caught napping and Martinelli’s right-wing cross sailed over an out-of-position Van Dijk and onto the head of Jesus with Liverpool’s left-back slow to react.
Van Dijk was also clearly rattled and received a rare booking for kicking out at Jesus as he skipped past him.
Liverpool were experimenting with Alexander-Arnold stepping into a midfield role akin to that of John Stones’ in Manchester City’s victory over them last weekend, but it was the right-back’s contretemps with Xhaka which finally produced a response from the home side.
Salah had poked wide on the angle with only goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale to beat, but when Curtis Jones and Diogo Jota combined down the left the Egyptian converted from close range at the far post via Jordan Henderson’s touch.
Hatzidakis’ interval altercation prompted an energised second-half performance from Liverpool and just seven minutes in Rob Holding fouled Jota only for Salah to push his penalty wide of the goalkeeper’s right-hand post.
It was Salah’s second successive failure from the spot, having failed with an equaliser attempt at Bournemouth last month.
Darwin Nunez was put through only for Ramsdale to save, but another substitute Firmino equalised with his 11th goal in 15 appearances against the Gunners when he nodded home an Alexander-Arnold cross.
Salah then volleyed over before Ramsdale tipped the Egyptian’s curling shot around a post and then dived at Konate to keep out his close-range effort.