Monday 22 January 2018

Reds blitz crushes shambolic Gunners

Liverpool 4 Arsenal 0

Alexis Sanchez cuts a sorry figure as he walks past Arsene Wenger after being substituted. Photo: Carl Recine/Reuters
Alexis Sanchez cuts a sorry figure as he walks past Arsene Wenger after being substituted. Photo: Carl Recine/Reuters

Jason Burt

Liverpool were fantastic; Arsenal fantastical; an embarrassing shambles; a pale, grotesque shadow of the side they should be. A parody.

They were humiliated by Liverpool's attacking power and pace but added to their miserable downfall with their lack of organisation and determination.

Once behind, it was over. All over. They had no belief and no leadership.

It was summed up by the utter ridiculousness of Liverpool's third goal; a concession that would have led to angry recriminations in Sunday League football never mind elite professional sport.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game against Arsenal at Anfield. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game against Arsenal at Anfield. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA

Arsenal took a corner. But they left Hector Bellerin as their sole defender and, when the ball was cleared to him he wafted a leg at it unconvincingly, trying to control it, with Mohamed Salah charging down and then running from deep in his own half to calmly steer a low shot beyond Petr Cech.

The second goal was not much less of a travesty for Arsenal as they, again, were attacking before they lost the ball inside the Liverpool penalty area.

Then it was pass, pass, pass and a final pass from Roberto Firmino out to Sadio Mane who cut back across Rob Holding - what possessed the Arsenal defender to show him inside? - with the outstanding forward then curling a superb right-footed shot around Cech and into the corner of the net.

It was that bad.

A Liverpool win, given the recent history of this fixture, was predictable enough and the manner of it was also wholly familiar.

They were too quick and aggressive and incisive for Arsenal to cope and therefore laid down their own marker as to what this season could hold. On this evidence there is only one side who could possibly be considered as potential title - or even top four - contenders.

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez in action with Liverpool's Emre Can. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez in action with Liverpool's Emre Can. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

"We're going to win the league," sarcastically sang the travelling Arsenal fans followed by "we are staying up". It was that painful for them.

Firmino also scored - the first goal - and it meant that Liverpool's ridiculously rapid front-three - an 'FMS' triumvirate - all struck while the fourth goal was claimed by the striker they are keeping out of the team right now, Daniel Sturridge, who came on as a substitute.

How bad was this for Arsenal? It was up their among the worst performances in Arsene Wenger's 21 years at the club and he acknowledged that as he muttered about "everything went wrong. From first to last minute... we were an easy opponent" in a predictably brief, and also somewhat incoherent, press conference.

It was as bad, if not worse, than performances such as the 5-1 slaughter here three years ago, when Liverpool scored four times in the opening 20 minutes, and the brutal 8-2 defeat away to Manchester United in 2011 although at least, then, Wenger had the mitigation of a makeshift line-up.

Bemused

That was not the case here. In fact he even decided to start without his two big summer recruits - record signing Alexandre Lacazette, who appeared bemused, and Sead Kolasinac.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger looks pensive during yesterday's match.Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger looks pensive during yesterday's match.Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

And, while Alexis Sanchez took to the pitch, for the first time this season, as he still hopes to leave (as does Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, wanted by Liverpool and applauded as he was substituted, and Shkodran Mustafi), he was withdrawn before the end and had that familiar look to him that says 'get me out of here'. So this side finished fifth last season and the two players brought in to improve it were left out?

Inexplicably Bellerin was playing at left-back - again - with Kolasinac on the bench while Nacho Monreal drowned in defence where he was cruelly exposed.

This was supposed to be the season when Arsenal ended the uncertainty, when Wenger had signed his new contract and the distractions were over, when he would re-arm his team and rebuild confidence.

Back-to-back league defeats away to Stoke City and Liverpool have followed a fortunate win at home to Leicester City and the same demons are there. The same questions; the same failings. It is an enduring, maddening, interminable 'groundhog day'.

Maybe he will confound critics. The season is new. But what is so difficult is that the result and the flow of the game were so predictable. Same old, same old.

This is not to detract from Liverpool who have a free-flowing brilliance about them when they attack and are managing to cope with Philippe Coutinho who still wants to leave for Barcelona before the window closes. They scored four and could have had seven, eight, who knows.

Arsenal's best player was goalkeeper Petr Cech, who produced a world-class save to spread himself and deny Salah before the scoring had even begun.

But begin it did and what is so awful about the way Arsenal defend - does anyone feel that three-at-the-back is working? - is the lack of pressure they put on the ball. They just do not press; do not harry; do not work.

Summed up by the ambling Granit Xhaka in midfield and, ahead of him, Mesut Ozil, of course.

So when Emre Can, who utterly eclipsed Xhaka, pushed the ball out wide to Joe Gomez the full-back had the time and the space to deliver a cross between Holding and Laurent Koscielny for Firmino to run through and head the ball past Cech who got fingers to it but had little chance. The second and third goals came and there were more chances the rhythm did not change.

Arsenal's one opportunity was spurned, also when it was goalless, with Danny Welbeck again falling as he shot, which seems to be a habit of his, and spooning the ball over the bar.

There was another example of how poor Arsenal were with Cech denying Salah but Henderson simply wanting the rebound more than Xhaka as they both ran to the ball. The Liverpool captain got there first and shot over but there was always going to be more goals and the fourth was similar to the first.

Again Can fed the ball wide and this time it was Salah with all the time and all the space to pick out Sturridge who cushioned his header past the forlorn and forsaken Cech.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said afterwards he felt his side's performance was perfect. Klopp was especially pleased with the intensity his players produced just four days after their emotionally-draining Champions League play-off win over Hoffenheim.

"We need to learn we can do things like this every three or four days, otherwise we will have a problem. We wanted to show it today and be spot on from the first second," he said. "We wanted to show our desire, our greed, our ambitions against a very strong side. We didn't think about winning the game - we thought about the performance. The performance was perfect and the result is the result of the performance." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport