Fabregas and Gerrard share spoils

Two unbeaten teams both lead by inspirational midfielders shared the spoils with their maestro’s sharing the goals, one early in the first half and one late in the second.

Steven Gerrard marked his 400th Liverpool appearance with a thunderous free kick after seven minutes. Xabi Alonso was tripped by Cesc Fabregas on the edge of the box and Gerrard arrowed the resulting free kick into the bottom corner at the Anfield Road End.

The rest of the first half saw Arsenal pressure a Liverpool side struggling to get to grips with the Londoner’s quick passing and pace. But the Reds held out to half time, when returning Fernando Torres was replaced by Peter Crouch. Torres was clearly struggling early on and wasn’t helped by the lack of support he had, with Andriy Voronin and Dirk Kuyt being deployed deep as wide attacking midfielders.

The second half started well for Liverpool again though, and Carragher, Mascherano and Alonso all began closing down Arsenal much quicker and Crouch up front held up play well and almost scored a stunning goal in a rather Neil Mellor -esque fashion.

But an injury to Xabi Alonso meant Alvaro Arbeloa having to replace him alongside Mascherano in holding the midfield, and Arbeloa struggled in the unfamiliar role. Then things were made worse by Mascherano also picking up an injury and with Voronin having been replaced by Benayoun, the little Argentinian struggled on to the end.

Arsenal made their break through when Fabregas broke from the middle and poked home past Reina.

Liverpool almost snatched the three points late on though when Crouch played in Gerrard but William Gallas blocked a goalbound shot from the Liverpool captain.

BBC Sport Report

Cesc Fabregas toe-poked a late goal to cancel out Steven Gerrard‘s first-half free-kick as Arsenal moved back to the top of the Premier League.

Gerrard struck with a fierce free-kick, on seven minutes, while Pepe Reina saved from Emmanuel Adebayor and Tomas Rosicky’s lob was cleared off the line.

After the break Emmanuel Eboue hit the post and Fabregas fluffed the rebound.

But Fabregas hit the equaliser on 80 minutes and later hit the post as both sides remained unbeaten in the league.

The result means Arsenal reclaim top spot in the table from Manchester United, having scored more goals than their rivals, after an absorbing encounter at Anfield.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez opted for a three-pronged attack with Fernando Torres back after a thigh injury and lining up alongside Dirk Kuyt and Andriy Voronin.

But it was soon apparent that Torres was not going to last the game and he quickly became a passenger in an ineffective front line.

Liverpool’s saving grace was the driving force of skipper Gerrard and it was his right boot that delivered a crushing blow, when his ferocious free-kick rocketed past Manuel Almunia.

Gerrard had been playing like a man out to prove a point, after a perceived dip in form, and he had already tested Almunia with a fizzing low drive.

And his harrying had denied Arsenal‘s midfield any time on the ball, but gradually Arsenal regained their composure and played their way into the game to dominate territory and possession.

Yet some breathtaking passing movements between the recalled Tomas Rosicky, Alex Hleb and Fabregas in particular could not carve out an equaliser.

Adebayor raced through on goal only for keeper Reina to superbly close him down and save with his chest.

And when Reina was beaten by a deft Rosicky lob, Sami Hyypia was on hand to hook the ball off the line.

Liverpool almost punished Arsenal when Gerrard – who else? – thundered in a volley that Almunia pushed over the bar.

Inevitably Liverpool replaced the struggling Torres with Peter Crouch at half-time.

And it did not take long for the substitute striker, who scored a hat-trick against Arsenal last year, to make his presence felt as his powerful drive brought a superb flying save out of Almunia.

Arsenal should have equalised when a slick move crafted a chance for Eboue and his shot cannoned back off the post straight to Fabregas, who made a hash of his effort with the goal gaping.

And instead they could have found themselves two goals down. Crouch latched on to a through ball but dragged his low shot across goal.

There was another scare for Arsenal when John Arne Riise’s volley from the edge of the box dipped late and nestled on the roof of the net.

But Fabregas got on the end of another excellent move to nudge the ball beyond Reina and ensure Arsenal have scored in every game this season.

It could have been even better for Fabregas and Arsenal, but the Spaniard saw a late shot come back off the post and Nicklas Bendtner blazed off target from the rebound.

Teams and Match Facts

Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Riise, Mascherano, Alonso (Arbeloa 68), Gerrard, Voronin (Benayoun 65), Kuyt, Torres (Crouch 46)
Subs Not Used: Itandje, Babel
Booked: Voronin, Mascherano, Carragher
Goals: Gerrard 7

Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Toure, Gallas, Clichy (Silva 74), Eboue (Bendtner 74), Fabregas, Flamini, Hleb, Rosicky (Walcott 66), Adebayor
Subs Not Used: Lehmann, Diarra
Booked: Rosicky, Toure, Fabregas
Goals: Fabregas 80

Attendance: 44,122
Referee: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire)