Premier League – Arshavin bullet downs Liverpool
But an eight-minute spell after the break saw the game turned on its head as an own-goal by Glen Johnson was swiftly followed by a sensational strike from Arshavin.
Victory sent the Gunners back into third place, three points behind Manchester United in second, but with a game in hand on the champions.
Liverpool’s sixth league defeat of the season sees them stay in seventh, level on points with Birmingham City.
Torres was fit enough to start for the first time since early November and, much to the relief of Liverpool fans, he took his place in the Liverpool line-up alongside fellow heavyweight Steven Gerrard – the 50th time the pair have taken to the field together.
With both players fit, Liverpool looked reinvigorated and it did not take the star duo long to link up and hand out a reminder of just how potent their double act can be.
After just 12 minutes of play, Torres laid off to the advancing Gerrard as Liverpool broke downfield at pace. The Liverpool skipper hared forward before finding his team-mate in space in the box, but Torres’s first-time effort was weak and straight at Manuel Almunia. For a player of his standing, it is fair to say he should have done better.
Just a minute later, Gerrard was denied the opportunity to put Liverpool ahead from the spot when referee Howard Webb waved away his strong penalty appeals following a clumsy challenge by William Gallas in the box.
The official had a decent view of the incident, but must have taken the view that Gerrard had lost control of the ball following a heavy touch a split second before Gallas made impact. It appeared to be the wrong decision.
Liverpool continued to attack and were not to be denied for much longer as Kuyt pounced just before the break to give the hosts the lead.
Fabio Aurelio was the architect, the Brazilian whipping in a free-kick that Almunia flapped at under pressure from Lucas Leiva. The ball fell kindly to Kuyt, who took a touch on his chest before stabbing through a crowd of players and into the back of the net.
It was nothing less than Liverpool deserved, having enjoyed the better of the opening period as Arsenal struggled in midfield against the combative Javier Mascherano and Lucas.
Up front for the Gunners, Arshavin, scorer of four goals in the corresponding fixture last season, was thoroughly anonymous as he ploughed a lone furrow during the opening period.
Arsene Wenger opted not to make any changes in personnel at the break, but some furious words in the dressing room had the desired effect on his team, who came out a different side for the second half.
Cesc Fabregas signalled their intent on 48 minutes, cutting inside and letting fly with a shot which lacked power, but nevertheless forced Jose Reina into making a save.
They drew level soon after, the unfortunate Johnson diverting the ball past his own keeper after Samir Nasri‘s cross had taken a crucial, if slight, deflection off Jamie Carragher with Theo Walcott lurking with intent in behind.
The goal changed the face of the game, and Arsenal looked the more likely of the two to grab a winner.
They did, on 58 minutes, as Arshavin finally burst into life, the ball arriving at the Russian’s feet after Walcott had failed to get on the end of Fabregas’s ball into the box. He took a touch to come back across the face of goal before firing a ferocious drive that went in off the upright with Reina nowhere near it.
It was a goal worthy of settling any football match and, with Liverpool failing to respond in the final half hour of play, Arshavin’s strike did just that, while at the same time giving Arsenal’s title hopes a real shot in the arm.
Mike Hytner / Eurosport