EPL: Oxlade-Chamberlain sends Arsenal top; Liverpool held

Liverpool missed a chance to strengthen its place in the Premier League's top four when Kolo Toure gifted West Bromwich Albion an equalizer in a 1-1 draw.

hidden February 03, 2014 09:05:15 IST
EPL: Oxlade-Chamberlain sends Arsenal top; Liverpool held

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain sent Arsenal back to the top of the Premier League on Sunday as his first goals in more than a year clinched a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace.

Meanwhile, Liverpool missed a chance to strengthen its place in the Premier League's top four when Kolo Toure gifted West Bromwich Albion an equalizer in a 1-1 draw.

Making his first league start since August in an injury-curtailed season, Oxlade-Chamberlain broke through the resilient visitors two minutes into the second half by lifting the ball into the net.

And, having not scored for Arsenal since December 2012, Oxlade-Chamberlain slotted in a second in the 73rd minute as he slotted seamlessly back into the injury-hit team.

"It was a tough game, they made it hard for us," Oxlade-Chamberlain said.

EPL OxladeChamberlain sends Arsenal top Liverpool held

"It was a tough game, they made it hard for us," Oxlade-Chamberlain said. AP

Having lost the league lead by drawing at Southampton in midweek, Arsenal moved back to the summit at least until Monday night when second-place Manchester City hosts Chelsea.

The win sets up Arsenal for a challenging period ahead, with Liverpool (twice), Manchester United and Bayern Munich coming up in the next four fixtures.

And the victory should dispel concerns — for now — about manager Arsene Wenger not spending in the January transfer window.

But it was a first half as frustrating as Arsenal's transfer inactivity. The only arrival — 31-year-old midfielder Kim Kallstrom on loan on Friday's deadline-day — has already been ruled out injured before even getting the chance to pull on an Arsenal shirt.

By contrast, Palace was one of the most active clubs on deadline-day, although the four new outfield players weren't registered in time for Sunday's game.

Arsenal completely dominated the first half against Palace, but found its route to goal congested by the disciplined visitors, who displayed the resilience at the heart of the team's revival under Tony Pulis since November.

Palace restricted Arsenal to just one shot in the opening half-hour, and that was from a defender. Goalkeeper Julian Speroni raced off his line in the seventh minute to meet Nacho Monreal, and block the shot with his right leg.

A diving save from Speroni in the 34th thwarted Laurent Koscielny's backward header from Mesut Ozil's free kick. From another of the Germany playmaker's free kicks, Per Mertesacker's header lacked power and was easily gathered by Speroni.

Arsenal ended the half with nothing to show for its 76 percent possession, but landed an immediate blow on the visitors after the break.

And the goal was just reward for the slick build-up. Santi Cazorla weaved his way through the Palace defense, and dinked the ball over for Oxlade-Chamberlain to lift it over Speroni.

The lead was preserved by Wojciech Szczesny being alert to save Cameron Jerome's downward header form Yannick Bolasie's flick-on.

And after Podolski fired into sidenetting, Oxlade-Chamberlain found the target again.

Thomas Rosicky knocked the ball forward to Olivier Giroud, who backheeled it for Oxlade-Chamberlain to strike low into the net.

The Ox-factor ensured Arsenal did not miss the suspended Mathieu Flamini and fellow midfielders Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, who are injured.

Earlier in the day, Liverpool took the lead against the run of play when Luis Suarez set up Daniel Sturridge to poke the ball into the net in the 24th minute.

But the winning position was thrown away in the 67th when Toure's slack cross-field clearance went straight to Victor Anichebe, who leveled with a low shot from a central position.

"Sometimes in the past I might have switched off," Anichebe said. "But today I was ready, especially against Liverpool. I was there and I finished it."

The draw pushed West Brom a point clear of the relegation zone.

Liverpool is fourth, three points behind Chelsea, which is at leader Manchester City on Monday.

Sturridge's 50th career league goal — and his 24th in 30 games for Liverpool — in a disjointed first-half performance had put his team on course to retain a four-point cushion over Everton.

But the draw will gave more ammunition to the critics who felt Liverpool should have strengthened in the transfer window to enhance its bid to regain Champions League football.

But it was not the absence of Ukraine winger Yehven Konoplyanka, whose proposed move to Anfield broke down in final hours of the January transfer window, which ultimately cost them points but a lack of resources at the back.

Toure is only playing because Daniel Agger and Mamadou Sakho are injured, but manager Brendan Rodgers insisted defensive reinforcements were not his priority.

What Liverpool really need is to keep Luis Suarez and Sturridge fit and scoring — as they did in a 4-0 rout of Everton in the Merseyside derby on Tuesday.

But the duo didn't make an impact at West Brom beyond the combination that produced the first-half goal.

AP

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