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Liverpool scores late in 4-4 draw with Arsenal

LIVERPOOL salvaged a 4-4 draw with Arsenal deep in injury time but Andrei Arshavin's four goals dealt the Reds' English Premier League title challenge a huge setback yesterday.

The draw, which had seemed implausible when Arshavin scored the final time in the 90th minute before Yossi Benayoun struck at the other end, did take Liverpool back to the top of the league on goal difference.

Rafa Benitez's side, however, might not be there long as second-placed Manchester United plays the first of its two games in hand on Wednesday against Portsmouth.

"United are in the driving seat and we will see what happens tomorrow," Benitez said. "If they win it will be more difficult but they have to win."

Fernando Torres and Benayoun each scored twice as Liverpool played out a second straight 4-4 draw, duplicating last week's match at Chelsea in the Champions League quarterfinals. That result still led to Liverpool's exit. Tuesday's leaves them relying on winning the five remaining matches and United losing twice in its seven.

"It is really disappointing because we conceded four goals and normally we were not conceding these kind of goals," Benitez said. "We made massive mistakes. It is difficult to explain because it was different players in different stages of the game.

Nine points adrift of Liverpool, Arsenal was in fourth place - the final Champions League qualifying spot - and focused on next week's European semifinal against Manchester United, so manager Arsene Wenger fielded a depleted side at Anfield. In-form winger Theo Walcott, who had scored in his last three games, was dropped in five changes from Saturday's FA Cup semifinal loss to Chelsea.

Arsenal took the lead when Javier Mascherano lost the ball on the edge of the penalty area and Samir Nasri took control and passed to Cesc Fabregas, who provided the cross that Arshavin sent into the net off the underside of the crossbar.

Three minutes into the second half, Torres equalized. Bacary Sagna's clearance was poor and Dirk Kuyt was able to cross from the right for Torres to head home.

Benayoun, Liverpool's most dangerous player, then put his team in front in the 56th, with Kuyt exploiting poor defending by Kieren Gibbs to provide the Israeli with a far-post header.

The lead lasted only nine minutes, when Arshavin struck again, stealing the ball off Alvaro Arbeloa and curling it beyond the reach of the diving Pepe Reina.

Three minutes later Liverpool messed up again. Fabio Aurelio inadvertently crossed to Arshavin and the February signing from Zenit St. Petersburg scored his third to put Arsenal back in control.

"He has a lot of tricks and a short backlift and that makes him very dangerous," Wenger said.

Liverpool, however, came back again as Torres controlled Albert Riera's cross, turned Mikael Silvestre and fired past Arsenal goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski.

Arsenal never gave up its resolve despite being effectively out of the title race. And in injury time, Arshavin looked like being the modern incarnation of Michael Thomas, whose goal for Arsenal with the last kick of the 1988-89 season at Anfield denied Liverpool the title.

Having come off the bench, Walcott picked up Fabianski's clearance, charged down the pitch and squared to Arshavin who slotted in the apparent winner.

"It was almost (like) basketball," said Arshavin.

The Liverpool fans were departing, but given the fluctuating fortunes of the night it was no surprise when Benayoun found himself in space to equalize yet again.

"We have to keep pushing and showed today we will fight until the last game," Benitez said.


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