* Liverpool’s Skrtel salvages 2-2 draw against Arsenal
* Defender’s last-gasp header earns deserved point at Anfield
* Late Johnson goal gives Sunderland 1-0 win at Newcastle (Adds detail)
By Martyn Herman
LONDON, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Liverpool’s heavily-bandaged Martin Skrtel headed a goal deep in stoppage time to spared them another deflating Premier League defeat as they snatched a 2-2 home draw with Arsenal on Sunday.
Inferior for most of the match, Arsenal still led with goals from French duo Mathieu Debuchy and Olivier Giroud after Philippe Coutinho had put the hosts deservedly ahead.
But Slovakian Skrtel, who required six minutes of treatment on a gashed head after being kicked by Giroud, thundered in a late header from Steven Gerrard’s corner to deny Arsenal and at least give the Anfield faithful some pre-Christmas cheer.
Despite failing to earn all three points, Arsenal moved back into sixth spot on goal difference above London rivals Tottenham Hotspur with 27 points from 17 games, four behind fourth-placed West Ham United who hold the last Champions League spot.
Leaders Chelsea can restore their three-point advantage over Manchester City by beating Stoke City away on Monday.
While Arsenal have now lost just once in their last seven meetings with Liverpool, Sunderland have won four in a row against north east rivals Newcastle United after Adam Johnson’s late goal gave them a 1-0 win in the day’s other fixture.
A riveting Tyne-Wear derby at St James Park featured more than 30 goal attempts but Newcastle-born Johnson was the only one to find the net a minute from time to give Sunderland their third win of the season and lift them away from danger.
“There are different ways to win a game and to win a derby and I think a winning goal in the last minute is a special way to do it,” Sunderland manager Gus Poyet said.
Liverpool, languishing in mid-table, lost 3-0 at Manchester United the previous weekend when they created chances at will.
A lack of killer instinct seemed about to haunt them again on Sunday as they enjoyed 65 percent possession and had four times as many goal attempts as the visitors.
With each failure to find the net thoughts inevitably drifted back to last season when, with Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez in harness, they blew Arsenal away 5-1.
In the end they needed a defender to salvage something from all their hard graft.
Even Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger admitted three points for his side, had Skrtel not equalised, would have been fortunate.
“We regret to concede on a set piece in the last minute, but overall maybe a fair result,” Wenger told Sky Sports.
“Last year was a bit in our mind and our flow was not there. We are playing a bit with the handbrake on.”
Liverpool completely dominated the opening half but had to wait until the 45th minute before Coutinho punished Arsenal for conceding possession, switching the ball to his right foot and drilling past Wojciech Szczesny via the post.
The defensive gremlins that have also undermined Liverpool’s season returned immediately as Debuchy headed an unlikely equaliser in first-half stoppage time.
Giroud struck what looked like being the winner after a slick Arsenal counter-attack, converting from close range in the 64th minute from Santi Cazorla’s cut back.
Liverpool had substitute Fabio Borini sent off late on but Skrtel’s last-gasp intervention earned them a point to move them above Merseyside rivals Everton into 10th place on 22 points.
“They (Arsenal) had three shots on target today and we had 23 efforts on goal,” Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers told Sky Sports. “Performance wise we are moving back to where we have been over the last couple of years.”
Sunderland won for the first time in 10 league matches and it could not have been better timed.
Johnson, who has now scored on his last three visits to Newcastle, slammed in the winner after 89 minutes -- shortly after Moussa Sissoko almost won it for hosts Newcastle.
“We’ve won three years in a row now, they must hate me here, three wins, three clean sheets,” said Johnson. (Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ken Ferris and Pritha Sarkar)