Arsenal do not start playing until they are behind. Theirs has been a wacky, impossible-to-fathom brand of football in recent weeks and a sprint through the emotions seemingly comes as standard. Booed at half-time, Arsene Wenger's players won back their home crowd with a stirring fightback and they were excruciatingly close to landing the knock-out blow.
For Liverpool, it had threatened to be a landmark victory, a first triumph over a team in the top half of the Premier League table and a balm to the horror of Sunday's FA Cup exit at League One Oldham Athletic. They seized upon Arsenal's early nerves and punished them for their dismal defending. Brendan Rodgers had been scathing in his criticism of the young players after Oldham and it had been felt by the dressing-room. He heaped praise upon his team for the response.
And yet it could have ended in defeat for the visitors. Arsenal had trailed for the fifth league game in succession – this team has an addiction to adversity of its own making – but after Theo Walcott's equaliser, they had the chances to have won. Liverpool were forced to cling on, even if Luis Suárez had two late sniffs to wrest back the points. His second effort led to Wojciech Szczesny almost spilling the ball into the far corner.
Both Suárez chances were marked by the Arsenal substitute André Santos' own brand of slapstick defending. He had entered the fray as a 37th-minute replacement for the injured Kieran Gibbs and there was an audible intake of breath when Wenger revealed that the left-back had a thigh strain that would rule him out for three weeks.
The obvious question: could Wenger get a replacement in before Thursday night's transfer deadline? The prospect of Santos for three weeks would surely be too much for the Arsenal support. "I will see what I can do," Wenger said. "It is a big blow." He meant the loss of Gibbs.
Wenger spoke of how Arsenal might have lost but, equally, how they could have won by three or four. It was difficult to argue. Recent history had unnerved his players again at the outset, he said, and although he trumpeted their spirit, the over-riding emotion was frustration at points dropped. At full-time, some of his players dropped to their haunches.
The feeling was different inside the away dressing-room, where Rodgers spoke of pride and a benchmark of progress, noting how soundly his team had been beaten by Arsenal at Anfield earlier in the season. Rodgers even said that Oldham "was more my fault than theirs."
This had seemed like a six-pointer in the fight for a Champions League finish and Arsenal felt the occasion get to them. and Suárez's 22nd goal of the season had Wenger lamenting a series of defensive blunders. The first mistake, ironically, was Liverpool's when Suárez miskicked as he sought to find the overlapping Glen Johnson but Bacary Sagna trumped that by falling over to allow the full-back through.
Johnson crossed, Thomas Vermaelen made a hash of the attempted clearance and Daniel Sturridge forced Szczesny to save. Aaron Ramsey, though, still could not clear and when Jordan Henderson passed to Suárez, his shot deflected past Szczesny. The arrival of the Keystone Cops would have completed the scene.
It was open, unpredictable and gripping. Szczesny summed things up when he attempted to fox Sturridge with a Cruyff-turn on his own six-yard line, except that he got it wrong and only a desperate foot-in spared him from an impossible explanation.
Arsenal had first-half chances. Walcott almost equalised immediately when he took Jack Wilshere's ball and forced Pepe Reina to save; Olivier Giroud flickered and Walcott drew the Liverpool goalkeeper into another stop, this one a full-length dive, after Daniel Agger's challenge had halted Vermaelen.
Liverpool's first-half chances were equally clear-cut. Sturridge, released by Suárez's crossfield ball, shot wastefully; Agger had a thumping header from Steven Gerrard's corner cleared off the line by Lukas Podolski and Henderson, confronted by Szczesny off his line, checked and flighted a 30-yard chip just over.
Henderson's performance would have impressed the watching England manager, Roy Hodgson, although his goal was marked by further comic defensive cuts. Henderson did not appear the favourite to power between Per Mertesacker and Santos, but he did so, and he would argue that he earned the luck that followed. Ramsey's tackle on him saw the ball canon off Santos, wrong-foot Szczesny and allow Henderson to roll home.
Liverpool had penalty appeals for handball against Vermaelen rejected on 50 minutes and yet, in breathless fashion, Arsenal rallied.
In the space of five minutes, they not only restored parity but they were within a whisker of leading. Giroud's header from Wilshere's free-kick and Walcott's thumping finish, after slick build-up play, rocked Liverpool and the England winger nearly floored them when he blasted just wide of the far post.
Arsenal ratcheted up the pressure. Santi Cazorla and Giroud, twice, went close before Suárez almost stole the victory. It was one of the games of the season but Wenger wanted points, not plaudits.