Liverpool annihilate Arsenal to go nine points clear at the top of the Premier League
Liverpool 5 Arsenal 1
Before this thumping 5-1 win over Arsenal, Jurgen Klopp wrote in the matchday programme about the subject of in-game setbacks - the type that his unbeaten Liverpool side have suffered but survived on several occasions already this season.
His players would suffer another such setback here - falling behind to Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ opener inside 11 minutes - and following a festive period of twists and turns at the top of the Premier League table, here it seemed we had another.
However, through two quickfire Roberto Firmino goals in response, then Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah and a third goal for Firmino, Klopp’s side showed why they are - so far - the nerveless protagonists in this year’s title race.
Liverpool duly capitalised on Tottenham Hotspur’s surprise home defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers and moved nine points clear at the summit. Their lead over defending champions Manchester City, who play Southampton tomorrow, is now in double figures.
By Thursday evening, that deficit could easily be reduced to four points, with City welcoming Liverpool to the Etihad in five days’ time best. It could, on the other hand, be as many as thirteen if Pep Guardiola’s side suffer consecutive defeats once again.
That is the best case scenario that Liverpool supporters left Anfield dreaming of after this victory. Should it come to pass, a first league title in 29 years would surely be theirs to lose.
The result at Wembley coloured Anfield with a certain tension and expectancy. Standing alone as the only title contenders not to drop points over the Christmas period, Liverpool now needed to once again keep their nerve. Yet there was a skittishness to their early play, particularly when playing out of the back.
One stray Fabinho pass played in Alex Iwobi, who was initially a menace on Arsenal’s left, but Alisson was equal to his low effort. Iwobi would be more successful a minute later, exchanging a one-two with Aaron Ramsey then finding Maitland-Niles unmarked at the far post with a low cross. The 21-year-old tapped in.
Klopp’s programme notes had foreshadowed this moment. “So far, we have shown the ability to absorb these moments, react to them and adapt” he wrote. “Let’s keep doing that.” The response Klopp sought would arrive just three minutes later, though more by Arsenal’s hand than that of his own players.
Xhaka’s tackle on Salah just inside the penalty area to snuff out a threatening counter-attack was executed perfectly, except for the fact that the ball followed through to Stephan Lichtsteiner. His attempt to clear - or, worse, control - the ball hit Shkodran Mustafi, rebounded out of Bernd Leno’s reach and allowed Firmino to apply a no-look finish.
Liverpool’s second came even quicker than their first. Not long after the restart, Lucas Torreira believed he had found a moment of calm to pause and take in his surroundings after a breathless quarter of an hour. He was wrong. Mané’s dispossession played in Firmino, though he still had a couple of Arsenal defenders to beat.
With the drop of his right shoulder went Mustafi, with the drop of his left went Sokratis Papastathopoulos, leaving only Leno to be deceived by a composed finish into the bottom corner. Firmino, goalless at Anfield in his last 11 league outings, now had two in the space of 90 seconds.
The furious pace eased as Liverpool began to find their feet in the midfield battle and, shortly after the half-hour mark, Mané would make their growing superiority tell. After a corner was cleared back across the halfway line, Andy Roberton’s punt forward sent Salah in behind. His first touch was a square pass, Mane’s was to put the ball into the roof of the net.
Salah, not wanting to be left out, wrote his name on the scoresheet at the close of the first half. The Egyptian had been angling his way in towards Leno’s goal from the right when Sokratis clumsily raked at his heels. For the second consecutive game at Anfield, he won and scored from the spot.
An attack as fluid as Arsenal’s could still threaten, as Aaron Ramsey proved when he ghosted a cross-cum-shot towards Alisson’s unguarded far post early in the second half. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was there to apply the required touch but, two yards out, found Anfield Road’s away end. The assistant’s flag was up but the decision was marginal at best.
That was the best Emery’s men offered. “Liverpool, take the piss,” the Kop demanded. The fifth followed. Again, it was from the penalty spot and a preventable Arsenal error, with Sead Kolasinac standing in for Lichtsteiner and Sokratis as the guilty culprit. His foul on Dejan Lovren allowed Firmino to complete his hat-trick and allowed those Liverpool supporters to leave dreaming.
Independent News Service