Liverpool’s Premier League title hopes were severely dented as they were held to a 4-4 draw by Arsenal in an extraordinary encounter that saw Andrei Arshavin grab all four for The Gunners.
In a pulsating clash from start to finish, both sides exchanged the lead in a game that showcased both the best and worst that both sides had to offer.
There were mistakes galore, as well as some of the best attacking football you are ever likely to see in what was a fantastic advert for The Premier League.
Arsenal took the lead, before Liverpool turned the clash on its head with headers from Fernando Torres and Yossi Benayoun.
But Arshavin embarked on a one-man mission to scupper Liverpool’s title hopes, equalizing before giving The Gunners the lead. Torres responded once more, while Arshavin added another and Benayoun netted his second of the game to make it 4-4.
Liverpool return to the top of the table on goal difference but with two games in hand, it is Manchester United who are in the driver’s seat in the Premier League run-in.
The game was two minutes old when Torres left Kolo Toure and Bacary Sagna sitting on the turf as he cut into the area before curling the ball into the grateful arms of Lukasz Fabianski.
The much-maligned Fabianski had faced his fair share of criticism following his Wembley antics at the weekend, but if confidence was in short supply it didn’t show. He was alert to everything Liverpool threw at him, a lone ship guarding The Gunners goal from the hosts Spanish Armada.
He was out quickly to smother an effort from Yossi Benayoun, who had been fed through the middle by Dirk Kuyt on nine minutes, but the pick of the Pole’s array of first-half stops was a one-handed tip over from a vicious half volley by Fernando Torres.
The Gunners showed occasional glimpses of neat football, but they were second best in every department and looked unlikely to keep their goal intact for 90 minutes. They appeared every inch the injury-ravaged, under strength line-up they were.
But they were hanging on for dear life and Liverpool were growing increasingly frustrated as chance after chance went begging.
Torres fired in a shot from 25 yards that Fabianski could not keep hold of, while Anfield let out a collective groan a minute later as Daniel Agger, newly-restored to the Reds line-up, had a header cleared off the line.
Liverpool’s dominance, however, served only to make the irony of Arsenal’s opener all the more obvious. Benitez’s side had only themselves to blame as Javier Mascherano was guilty of giving the ball away on the edge of his own area.
The Argentine is not known for his ability in possession, which made his decision to dally on the ball 20 yards from his own goal all the more absurd.
He was robbed by Cesc Fabregas, who exchanged passes with Samir Nasri before the Arsenal skipper crossed for Arshavin to side-foot the ball into the back of the net off the underside of the crossbar.
The goal seemed only a momentary interlude in the one-way traffic as within a minute, Benayoun skipped through a series of Arsenal challenges and into the box before drawing another fine one-handed save from Fabianski.
It was not long before The Reds did draw level in a breathless start to the second half, and barely five minutes later would they take the lead. Two bad clearances from Arsenal led to two crosses, two headers and two goals.
Sagna was guilty of the first mistake, only finding Kuyt with his effort to clear his lines. The Dutchman picked out Torres at the second attempt and his header was powerfully dispatched past Fabianski from eight yards.
Gibbs was the guilty party five minutes later, again finding Kuyt wide on the right. He put in an excellent ball to the far post where Benayoun just about got his head to it ahead of Sagna. His effort looped back into the goal where Fabianski could only scoop it out from behind the line.
But the drama was far from over; in fact, it had barely just begun. Arsenal turned the tie on its head, and this time it was the turn of Liverpool’s full backs to make a mess of their clearances.
Arbeloa gifted the ball to Arshavin midway through the second half and he strode forward before dispatching a swerving effort powerfully past Reina and into the net.
The Russian completed his hat-trick three minutes later, this time pouncing on a woeful attempt by Fabio Aurelio to clear his lines, rifling the ball under Reina from ten yards out.
Liverpool were in need of a rapid response and who better than Torres to provide it. With 18 minutes left on the clock, the Spaniard received a cross from Riera, took a touch to get the ball out from under his feet, dropped the shoulder to beat Mikael Silvestre and hammered it past Fabianski.
The Reds pressed for the elusive winner but were hit with a sucker punch at the death as Arshavin scored his fourth in injury time. Walcott broke down the right before squaring to the unmarked Arshavin to lash it home when one-on-one with Reina.
But in a remarkable clash, it was only to be expected that Liverpool would grab a late equalizer. Benayoun duly obliged finishing from close range to salvage a point for The Reds that gives them a mountain to climb in their title pursuit.