In what was billed as one of the early big clashes of the new Premier League season, Arsenal were the hosts as they entertained Liverpool.
An impressive Reds side who’d reigned the changes in both staff and players – Brendan Rodgers has been investing big money in a summer of ambition at Anfield.
Having won their first two games with slender victories, they travelled to north London for their first significant clash of the campaign. Arsène Wenger’s men won their first match of the season victory at Crystal Palace, but were less than clinical in front of goal once more as the two sides shared the spoils in an enthralling but frustrating goalless draw.
The opening minutes saw chances at each end, signalling the tempo of proceedings at the Emirates. Philippe Coutinho rattled the crossbar from close range before Alexis Sánchez watched his header flash over the woodwork at the other end.
A defensive mix-up from Liverpool almost culminated in the opener at the end of a neat passing move from the hosts. Mesut Özil was unlucky not to get on the end of a through ball in the box before a messy attempt at a clearance between James Milner and Martin Skrtel was almost punished.
After an early scare Arsenal started to get themselves forward at speed and the visitors were struggling to cope at times, despite playing a solid pressing game out of possession.
Aaron Ramsey had the net bulging but his low effort was incorrectly ruled out for offside. Replays showed the Welshman was level with the last defender, so the controversial decision could have gone either way from the officials.
Minutes later Christian Benteke’s tireless pressing almost carved out a goal for Brendan Rodgers’ team. Calum Chambers – making his first competitive start since March – was understandably nervous being deployed in a centre-back pairing which did not include either Laurent Koscielny (back) or Per Mertesacker (illness) for the first time in over three years.
A loose pass fell to the feet of Coutinho, who shaped to shoot but was unable to connect with the ball after a last-ditch tackle by Francis Coquelin in the nick of time to deny the talented Brazilian from troubling Petr Cech.
It wouldn’t be a typical Arsenal display without a few bumps in the road, and Coquelin was called into action once more to deny another Liverpool attack with the visitors probing for the opening goal.
Chambers, who has shown plenty of potential over the past two years, was always going to be given a tough time up against the physical Benteke – who is not only agile and powerful, but also clinical in front of goal too.
As the first-half went on, Liverpool were clearly the better side. Čech, who was under pressure after a poor home debut against West Ham, did remarkably well on a number of occasions to keep the scores goalless at the interval.
First, Roberto Firmino fizzed a low teasing ball into the area for Benteke to strike, from close-range. The Belgian looked destined to score, but Arsenal’s new number one produced an oustanding reaction save to parry the ball away for a corner.
The last opportunity of the half fell to Coutinho, one of Liverpool’s most lively players in the first 45 minutes. He danced his way past Héctor Bellerín into the area before striking goalwards – and was denied by yet another impressive fingertip save from Čech. He dived instinctively and got fingertips to the stinging effort to tip it onto the post
Arsenal were sloppy in possession, looked rather nervy at the back but made it to half-time level.
As the second-half began, though, Arsenal looked galvanised going forward, posing a constant threat.
Finding a few pockets of space, the build-up play between Özil, Cazorla and Sánchez was a delight; finally they were getting on the ball more. Sánchez saw an effort from close-range bounce off the post as the pressure continued to pile on for the visitors. Liverpool were allowed to break every so often, but Čech was equal to attempts from Milner and Benteke.
The visitors brought on youthful duo Jordon Ibe and Jordan Rossiter; both of whom were forced into defensive duties to try and quell the wave of Arsenal attacks.
Arsenal continued to carve open opportunities to break the deadlock, but to no avail. Olivier Giroud had the most clear-cut chance from close range, after a welcoming ball forward by Bellerín on the edge of the area. It just wasn’t the Frenchman’s day, admittedly, and his sliding effort on goal was palmed away acrobatically by Simon Mignolet, who was on course for his third successive clean sheet of the season.
Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were introduced late on; the latter of which was lively and made good use of his attacking impetus on the flank, giving the impressive Joe Gomez a tough time.
His inviting ball across the box was inches away from meeting Walcott with the goal gaping, but Martin Skrtel made a last-ditch sliding attempt to hack the ball to safety.
Arsenal walk away from the clash knowing they could have easily won quite convincingly in truth, but failed to take their opportunities once more. How many times have we said that?