LONDON, August 25- Arsenal and Liverpool had to settle for a point each after a richly entertaining game of two halves beneath the Emirates Stadium drizzle implausibly finished 0-0 on Monday.
With Arsenal centre-backs Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny absent — the former ill, the latter laid low by a back problem — Liverpool dominated the first half, hitting the woodwork twice and seeing Petr Cech produce an astonishing save to deny Christian Benteke.
The hosts took control in the second half, Alexis Sanchez striking the post, but Liverpool held firm for a result that left them two points below leaders Manchester City — the only team in the Premier League to have won their first three games — and three points above Arsenal.
A goalless draw seemed an improbable outcome for much of the match, such was the sheer number of chances, but having seen his side beaten 2-0 by West Ham United in their first home game, it was Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger who would have been the most relieved to avoid defeat.
The evening’s first bombshell landed when Arsenal’s starting line-up was announced, revealing that Mertesacker and Koscielny would both miss a league game for the first time since a 2-1 loss at home to Wigan Athletic in April 2012.
Their deputies, Calum Chambers and Gabriel, had never previously played together at centre-back and Liverpool lost little time attacking them.
Inside the first three minutes, Benteke shot wide from Emre Can’s pass and then teed up Philippe Coutinho for a shot that thudded against the crossbar.
But Liverpool exhibited defensive frailties of their own and after Sanchez had headed over, Aaron Ramsey scored from a sensational Santi Cazorla pass, only to be denied by an offside flag.
– Coquelin rescue –
The Premier League has admitted that Benteke’s goal in last Monday’s 1-0 win over Bournemouth should have been ruled out for offside against Coutinho and here again, Liverpool looked to have received a favour from the officials.
They also received a series of favours from Chambers, who gave the ball away with troubling regularity, obliging Francis Coquelin to produce a desperate last-ditch tackle on Coutinho on one occasion.
It was then Cech’s turn to dig his team out, the Czech goalkeeper producing an extraordinary stop to prevent Benteke from poking in Roberto Firmino’s low cross at point-blank range and then brilliantly tipping a shot from Coutinho onto the post after the Brazilian had embarrassed Hector Bellerin.
Arsenal belatedly settled in the second half, occupying the full width of the pitch when in possession and making deeper inroads in the Liverpool third.
Olivier Giroud volleyed wide, before a slick combination involving Mesut Ozil, Cazorla and Giroud culminated in Sanchez bursting onto a lay-off from the Frenchman and slamming a shot against the post.
In search of an extra out ball, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers sent the pacy Jordon Ibe on for Firmino, but Arsenal continued to press, with visiting goalkeeper Simon Mignolet forced to claw away a close-range shot from Giroud and field a curler from Ramsey.
Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain joined the fray for Arsenal in the closing stages and the latter almost crafted a breakthrough, first with a low cross that Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel prodded a foot wide of the post and then with a skidding drive that Mignolet had to parry.