Wednesday 26 June 2019

Firmino's treble crushes Arsenal

Liverpool 5 Arsenal 1

Brazilian forward Roberto Firmino celebrates scoring a penalty to complete his hat-trick in Liverpool’s win over Arsenal at Anfield last night. Photo: Paul Ellis/Getty
Brazilian forward Roberto Firmino celebrates scoring a penalty to complete his hat-trick in Liverpool’s win over Arsenal at Anfield last night. Photo: Paul Ellis/Getty

Paul Wilson

It seems Pep Guardiola might be wrong about Liverpool feeling the pressure now they are out in front in the Premier League - all the slip-ups and chokes are currently coming from the teams immediately below them, with the leaders sailing serenely on.

Jurgen Klopp's team were almost untouchable here, taking advantage of Tottenham's unexpected collapse at Wembley to open up a sizeable nine-point gap at the top of the table. Klopp insists it is too early to talk about titles and leads, though if his side are still unbeaten after their visit to the Etihad on Thursday, it is hard to imagine who or what might derail the most powerful assault on the Premier League Liverpool have ever mounted.

Mohamed Salah of Liverpool scores his sides fourth goal. Photo: Getty
Mohamed Salah of Liverpool scores his sides fourth goal. Photo: Getty

Arsenal gave it a shot, even inducing a mild frisson of tension by taking an early lead, but well before the end they were worn down by a relentless red machine.

This was not Liverpool at their most flamboyant - it did not need to be. A combination of efficiency and boundless enthusiasm was enough to force Arsenal into errors, from which clinical finishing ensured the goals flowed.

Liverpool, predictably, swarmed all over Arsenal from the start, with the front three pressing frenziedly and Fabinho and Andy Roberston driving through midfield to set up attacks, yet it was the visitors who struck first.

Alex Iwobi had already seen a shot saved from the first real attack of the evening, before a misdirected pass by Dejan Lovren gave him the ball on halfway a minute later. Iwobi played a quick one-two with Aaron Ramsey and headed for the Liverpool area, this time crossing instead of shooting for Ainsley Maitland-Niles to supply a sliding finish at the far post. Alisson might have reacted earlier and tried to get something on the cross, but he was probably expecting another shot from Iwobi and the speed with which Arsenal sent men forward caught the entire Liverpool backline off guard.

Roberto Firmino of Liverpool scores his sides fifth goal. Photo: Getty
Roberto Firmino of Liverpool scores his sides fifth goal. Photo: Getty

Unai Emery's players must have felt pretty pleased with themselves after a torrid opening period, yet Liverpool snapped back in under three minutes. Mohamed Salah's shot inadvertently set up Roberto Firmino to equalise, and though Arsenal appealed for offside the referee's assistant correctly ruled that the last touches had come off Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Shkodran Mustafi, who had found only each other when attempting to clear.

If that was a statement of intent from Liverpool another arrived almost immediately, Firmino popping up with his second after Sadio Mané dispossessed Lucas Torreira in midfield. That description does scant justice to the quality of Firmino's contribution: the Brazilian glided effortlessly past attempts to challenge from Mustafi and Papastathopoulos before placing the ball calmly beyond a nonplussed Bernd Leno. It was one man against virtually the entire Arsenal defence and Firmino won hands down.

After three goals in little over five minutes, the game settled down for a while, with Liverpool always in control, before Mané increased the lead just past the half hour. Arsenal cleared a corner but had so many men back in their own box the ball ran to an unchallenged Robertson on halfway. The full-back had all the time he needed to hit a 50-yard diagonal pass that picked out Salah in the area, and once the Egyptian had squared across goal Mané finished with an emphatic flourish even though the ball came to him at waist height.

Just when Arsenal thought they might make it to the interval without further damage, after seeing attempts of their own from Maitland-Niles and Ramsey fly narrowly over in the closing minutes of the first half, a momentary lapse of concentration cost them dearly as stoppage time arrived. Firmino found space on the right and picked out Salah in the area, then Salah reached the goal-line ready to cut back across goal.

The situation was already dangerous and a rash challenge from the luckless Papastathopoulos did nothing to improve it. The defender did not do too much to bring Salah down, a point he was still arguing with the Liverpool striker as the teams headed for the tunnel at half-time, but he had his hands on his opponent and his attempt at a tackle from behind did not reach the ball. Salah went down, the penalty decision went his way, and he scored from the spot to secure a 4-1 interval lead.

Liverpool could have gone further ahead at the start of the second half but for a careless touch from Salah, showing too much of the ball to Leno and wasting a quite wonderful pass into the area by Xherdan Shaqiri. Arsenal did not give up and came quite close to a scoring when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang lifted a shot over the bar from a yard or two out. It would not have counted - the flag was raised - but replays suggested Aubameyang had managed to stay onside to reach Ramsey's cross.

Leno had to make a save from Fabinho after a clever flick from Salah set up another chance, so Arsenal could not complain too much about another soft penalty bringing a fifth Liverpool goal.

Sead Kolasinac shoved Lovren in the back as a cross from Jordan Henderson came in, Michael Oliver spotted it and awarded the spot-kick from which Firmino completed his hat-trick.

Perhaps Lovren went to ground too easily, but the push gave him that option. Liverpool will arrive at Manchester City with 54 points from 20 games, 48 goals scored and just eight conceded. That's championship form in anyone's book. The pressure is now on Pep.

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