Skrtel's timely double
Published 09/02/2014 | 14:42
The last time Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel scored twice in a game he was playing junior football in Slovakia - but he could not have produced better timing to repeat the feat as a professional.
After just 11 goals in 230 previous appearances the 28-year-old scored the fourth-placed Reds' opening two in the 5-1 demolition of Arsenal which not only dented the Gunners' title credentials but boosted their own.
Helping knock the Gunners off the top of the table was the perfect confidence booster, following the disappointing draw at struggling West Brom the previous weekend.
Skrtel is known more for his aerial ability in his own penalty area but he gave his side a dream start after just 52 seconds and then headed home 10 minutes later, both from Steven Gerrard set-pieces.
It speaks volumes that Skrtel double-goal celebrations come along more regularly than Liverpool's championship triumphs - but in this sort of form all that could change.
The last time Liverpool put five past Arsenal, in April 1964, they won the league to give Bill Shankly his first title.
Plenty of work still has to be done but they are only six points behind new leaders Chelsea, who still have to come to Anfield along with second-placed Manchester City.
"It (scoring) doesn't happen very often but I got two and I am very happy for that and I'm happy I helped the team win the match," said Skrtel.
"The last time I scored two was when I was very young but never in senior football. I couldn't believe it.
"I've scored 13 goals for Liverpool and 90% have been from a cross from Stevie."
Skrtel's goals gave Liverpool the platform and they seized on that with further additions from the excellent Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge as Arsenal were left reeling after just 20 minutes.
In truth the home side could have been even further ahead as Luis Suarez smashed a sumptuous volley against the post and Sturridge cheekily chipped goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny - but the ball dropped wide of the post.
Sterling's second just after the break ensured there would be no dramatic comeback and Mikel Arteta's penalty, after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had been needlessly felled by Gerrard, was not much of a consolation for the fans' long journey back to London.
Sterling stood out for the second time in as many weeks but manager Brendan Rodgers maintains it will be the team that gets them across the top-four finishing line, so reluctant is he to contemplate a title charge.
"Raheem was incredible. He has just turned 19 years of age and I don't think there is a better winger in England at this moment in time," said the manager.
"Oxlade-Chamberlain is a brilliant player but you look at Raheem and he was absolutely phenomenal.
"But across the board Aly Cissokho defended well at left-back, Martin Skrtel was exceptional and Jon Flanagan was brilliantly aggressive on the front foot.
"Sturridge played in that penetration role (up front) while Suarez was selfless after we switched the front three around.
"Luis had to do that selfless job on the right so you could see we are a team - and a team who are getting better.
"Overall the players were tactically brilliant and you also saw the appetite and hunger for the game, which was important."
Midfield was a key battleground and it was comfortably won by Liverpool with Gerrard providing the leadership and Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho, who now offers much more physically, providing the legs.
"We do a lot of work on our pressing and I feel if we press well we pass well," added Rodgers.
"Philippe was one of those players when he came in who always had that appetite for the ball but he has added the ability to press the ball, intercept and block.
"His hunger for that side of the game is key and Jordan Henderson is a player who is improving all the time, so with Steven controlling from behind and feeding the balls through, playmaking from that role, it sets things up perfectly."