Liverpool's New-Found Fighting Spirit Earns 3-3 Draw with Arsenal

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Liverpool's New-Found Fighting Spirit Earns 3-3 Draw with Arsenal
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As Christian Benteke headed down a hopeful punt into the Arsenal penalty area deep into Liverpool's clash with the Gunners on Wednesday night, few supporters in Anfield expected Joe Allen to be the player to meet the Belgian's knockdown.

But as the 25-year-old guided a well-struck volley beyond Petr Cech and into the bottom corner, Liverpool secured a vital point at home to the title favourites, showcasing a new-found fighting spirit under Jurgen Klopp.

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Allen's goal capped a remarkable contest that saw two Roberto Firmino strikes cancelled out by Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud before Giroud capitalised on some poor defending to fire Arsenal 3-2 up before the hour mark.

With Arsene Wenger's side performing with fleeting quality on the night, 3-3 was a fair result.

It left Arsenal level on points with Leicester City at the top of the Premier League table. Liverpool remain within five points of fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, still harbouring ambitions of Champions League qualification.

Failing to unsettle the balance in the race for the top four, Wednesday night's Anfield stalemate saw Klopp learn little about his side as individuals, but the character shown to salvage a point late on will have buoyed the German significantly.

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Klopp made 11 changes to the side that drew 2-2 with Exeter City in the FA Cup third round on Friday but kept the same setup from St James Park, deploying a strong Liverpool lineup in a familiar 4-2-3-1 formation.

This saw Simon Mignolet return in goal behind a back four of Nathaniel Clyne, Kolo Toure, Mamadou Sakho and Alberto Moreno. Emre Can and Jordan Henderson were reunited in what is developing into a well-balanced midfield pairing.

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Supporting Firmino as Klopp's lone striker were James Milner, Adam Lallana and Jordon Ibe. Having left Christian Benteke on the substitutes' bench, the manager was rewarded with a fluid, hardworking display.

Alternating with Lallana in leading the line, Firmino was in inspired form throughout the first half, pressing persistently off the ball, moving intelligently between the lines as the Reds built promising attacking moves and twice putting his side ahead—with his second goal a contender for goal of the season.

With Milner laying the ball off to the Brazilian on the edge of the Arsenal penalty area on 19 minutes, Firmino turned and curled the ball out of Cech's reach and into the back of the net.

It was a move that perfectly highlighted Firmino's potential as Liverpool's No. 9, and speaking to reporters after the game, as relayed by the club's official website, Klopp lavished praise on the former Hoffenheim man, saying: "I could talk about this for half an hour, but to be honest I think it should be normal because I know how good he is."

Klopp was critical of his side's defending, however, and therein lies the issue with Liverpool's performance.

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"We have to defend set plays better; it’s an easy thing to say but we have to work on it and we will work on it," he explained. "We will analyse it, of course, and we have to do it better."

With Mignolet, Toure and Sakho at fault for Arsenal's goals, Klopp will have been disappointed with the way in which his side crumbled under pressure from the likes of Ramsey and Giroud.

Unfortunately, this is a familiar tale for Klopp, who has witnessed a host of miserable defensive performances undermine strong attacking work in his first three months in charge on Merseyside.

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But with Allen on hand to secure an unlikely comeback, Klopp's team showed a new side—strong, resolute and desperate to secure a positive result.

As the game entered the dying stages, Liverpool employed a different approach to their typical goal-chasing game plan, employing patience, intelligence and composure as they looked to break down a strong Arsenal defence.

Henderson's passing was incisive and inventive from his role stationed on the edge of the area, while Benteke should be commended for the positions he took up in the box, actively moving toward the ball to create opportunities.

This late surge was knitted together by an emphatic Firmino, whose movement and interplay in a floating role opened up space for his team-mates—and though Klopp will not have been surprised by the 24-year-old's display, Firmino's work in the closing stages showed a maturity not often seen in his time at Liverpool so far.

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Determined not to add to the three defeats already suffered at the hands of Wenger when in charge at Borussia Dortmund, Klopp showed his desire to win at all costs by sending on new loan signing Steven Caulker as a second centre-forward.

A centre-back, Caulker's presence in the Arsenal penalty area showed Klopp's willingness to sacrifice his footballing ideals in search of a result, matching his raw passion from the touchline.

As Allen's goal sent Anfield into raptures, former manager Rafa Benitez will have soaked in the atmosphere from his position in the stands, with this battling performance bearing similarities to the Liverpool of old—of Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia, Steven Gerrard and Dietmar Hamann, fighting endlessly for a result.

While there were the same deficiencies on show at Anfield, this 3-3 draw highlighted a changing of mentality at Liverpool under Klopp, who has taken an admirable approach in restoring confidence to a side left lacking it following the dismal final months of Brendan Rodgers' reign.

"You need a little bit of luck, and we had it," Klopp said after the game.

"We changed players and it was a perfect ball for Christian, a perfect header and a perfect finish. I think it was a well-deserved draw in an all-time spectacular game."

Though the manager attested it was luck that earned Liverpool the draw, speaking to BT Sport after the game (h/t This Is Anfield), Allen alluded to a fighting spirit within the Reds dressing room:

I think that’s testament to the characters we’ve got in that dressing room.

We’ve got that attitude of going to the final whistle.

We obviously had some setbacks in the game, to be ahead and then throw it away a little bit, with some disappointing goals which was a shame.

But we kept at it and thankfully we’ve come away with something.

It is this snarling, battling Liverpool Klopp will want to harness as he looks to build on his first three months in charge, and having caught glimpses of this in draws with Exeter, West Bromwich Albion in December and November's 2-1 win at home to Bordeaux in the Europa League, Klopp will be looking for this to continue.

Liverpool continue to take small steps toward progress under Klopp, and a strong showing of spirit at Anfield on Wednesday night presented a major change in emphasis.

 

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