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Sunday 21 December 2008 16:00 , Barclays Premier League

A fantastic goal from Robbie Keane earned Liverpool a 1-1 draw at the Emirates in the absence of ailing boss Rafa Benitez.Keane's sweet half-volley levelled Robin van Persie's opener on the stroke of half time, while the Gunners had to play the last 30 minutes with 10 men following the harsh dismissal of Emmanuel Adebayor.The result means Liverpool will spend Christmas top of the league for the first time since 1996 should Chelsea fail to win at Everton on Monday night.

All the pre-match talk centred on those absent from the Liverpool camp. Benitez stayed on Merseyside to continue his recovery from last week's kidney stone operation, while Javier Mascherano failed to shake off a bout of flu. Andrea Dossena, Fabio Aurelio and, most crucially, Fernando Torres completed the sick list.
All this meant Lee sent out a side including Lucas, 19-year-old left-back Emiliano Insua and the recalled Keane.

Arsenal were first to threaten on eight minutes when Bacary Sagna crossed to the back post, where Adebayor initially seemed to get the better of Pepe Reina. But, as the ball trickled towards goal, a linesman's flag indicated something untoward. Television replays showed a blatant handball; think Maradona on Peter Shilton circa 1986.Sagna and Adebayor again combined on 14 minutes only for the latter's glancing header to be gathered well by Reina.

At the other end, Keane, booed from the off thanks to his Spurs connection, managed to steal a 10-yard march on Arsenal's bewildered offside trap before laying back to Gerrard, whose powerful drive was too close to Manuel Almunia.Despite this, it was Arsenal who looked the more dangerous, and their drive reaped rewards on 24 minutes when a long ball from the returning Samir Nasri was controlled by van Persie, who turned Jamie Carragher before firing past Reina's dive from 15 yards.

Liverpool would now have to live up to their reputation as comeback kings to guarantee Christmas number one status, though memories of an overturned deficit against another big four side, Man Utd, earlier in the season kept the travelling Kop optimistic.Down on the away bench, goalkeeping coach Xavi Valero listened intently on a mobile phone, doubtless relaying instructions from his boss watching back home.

If 'bang a hopeful ball to Keane and leave him to do the rest' were Benitez's orders, it wasn't long before they were duly carried out.There were 43 minutes on the clock when the recalled Daniel Agger lofted a 60-yard pass beyond Johan Djourou and the rest of the Gunners backline. The timing of Keane's run was perfect, and the Irishman smashed an unstoppable half volley into the top corner. The silence from Arsenal's faithful, and the critics who've documented Keane's Liverpool career so far, was deafening.

Minutes later Gerrard skewed a wonderful opportunity to turn the game on its head after Dirk Kuyt's low cross into the six-yard box, and there was still time for Kuyt to force a fingertip save from Almunia before Howard Webb blew for half-time.News that the injured Cesc Fabregas would be replaced by Abou Diaby for the second half gave the visitors a further boost, and it was Liverpool who started most brightly after the restart.

Two minutes in, Lucas forced Almunia into a diving save with a well-struck effort from inside the box. Next, Insua broke down the left before finding Keane in the box. Again the Arsenal goalkeeper was made to work, though his save needn't have been so dramatic.Liverpool were beginning to purr, and Arsenal's cause was about to be dealt another serious blow, this time by referee Webb. Replays proved harsh his decision to display a second yellow on 62 minutes to Adebayor for a flailing arm near Alvaro Arbeloa.

There were more yellow cards than serious chances as a fiery encounter entered its closing stages.A left-foot rocket from Agger flew just wide as injury time loomed, while substitute Nabil El Zhar's downward header from an Insua cross had Arsenal hearts in mouths.It wasn't to be, but a point will be considered a valuable return from one of the season's toughest fixtures.



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