A blistering opening 20 minutes from Liverpool tore a lackluster and ramshackle Arsenal side apart to pave the way for a scintillating 5-1 victory at Anfield. Eight points behind the visiting Premier League leaders at the start of play, Liverpool came out with a ferocious intensity and simply blew a dazed Arsenal outfit away.
Martin Skrtel directed in a Steven Gerrard set-piece inside a minute and did so again shortly after to double his side’s advantage. When Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge also found the net, Liverpool were four goals to the good and the 20-minute mark had not yet been reached.
At that point, the game had already been won and what happened for the remaining 70 minutes was largely academic. Liverpool did still add a fifth goal, with Sterling getting his second just after half-time before Mikel Arteta scored the most meager of consolation goals for Arsenal from the spot.
It was an incredible encounter and one that could have major ramifications for the remainder of the Premier League season. For Liverpool, it was a performance that bore close resemblances to their similar destructions of Tottenham and Everton. While Brendan Rodgers undeniably favors a short-passing game, like those two victories, this one was built upon Liverpool’s willingness and ability to repeatedly look forward early and play the ball through to their energetic attackers. Luis Suarez, while not on the score-sheet, more than played his part, operating from a unusual wide right berth.
The third, fourth and fifth goals came from exactly this strategy and there could have been more besides. Arsenal were simply unable to cope. Arteta and Jack Wilshere offered precious little protection in front of their back four. Neither are naturally defensively minded and it showed. The absence of the suspended Mathieu Flamini has never been more keenly felt. Meanwhile, the lack of pace of Per Mertesacker, something for which both he and his team had previously covered for admirably this season, was laid bare.
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Worryingly for a side with title pretensions and at the start of a run of games that could well define their season, Arsenal showed an inability to react to adversity, either psychologically or tactically.
For Liverpool, it was a performance in such stark contrast to the insipid one they produced in dropping two points against West Brom last week. In the buildup to this match, Rodgers talked down his team’s title chances last week and, unless their away form dramatically improves, he will surely be right to have done so. Yet no side will fancy coming up against Liverpool with Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling and Jordan Henderson all piling forward and Coutinho supplying the ammunition.
The scene was set after just 54 seconds. From Steven Gerrard’s whipped in free-kick from the left, Skrtel was in a marginal offside position. With no flag and after a slight flick-on at the near-post the Liverpool defender ungainly made connection with his knee to take the ball straight at Wojciech Szczesny, but with little time to react, the Arsenal stopper could do nothing to keep the ball at bay.
It was the same combination that doubled Liverpool’s lead before the 10-minute mark was reached. This time it was an out-swinging corner from Gerrard that caught Arsenal’s defense slow to react. Laurent Koscielny was unable to get to Skrtel, who peeled away from the melee and stoop to direct a superb header into the top corner.
The early goals filled Liverpool with even more belief and enthusiastic intensity than which they began. Arsenal, meanwhile, were stunned. With Arsenal failing to gain display any composure or simply try to get a foothold in the match for a few minutes, the onslaught kept coming thick and fast from the hosts. Indeed, the punishment could have been even more severe in a bewildering opening.
Suarez’s positioning on the right was causing particular problems to the left side of Arsenal’s defense. After being found by an early ball forward from Coutinho, the Uruguayan cleverly helped the ball first-time square for Sturridge, who should have scored but dinked wide of the post.
Moments later, Suarez almost had yet another contender for goal of the season to his name. After controlling a slightly wayward corner 25 yards, he struck a volley of incredible force that cannoned back off the post. From the rebound, Kolo Toure’s prodded wide with a wide open goal at his mercy.
Liverpool had little reason to worry about chances going begging. They continued to come thick and fast. The next two goals summed up the contest. First, Henderson brushed Mesut Ozil off the ball on halfway before quickly picking out the run of Suarez down the right. With Mertesacker again ambling back as leaden footed as he has ever looked, Suarez’s low ball across the face of goal could have been converted by either Sturridge or Sterling. The latter did the honors and soon Liverpool were back for more.
This time it was Coutinho who pressed and regained possession, nipping easily in front of Wilshere. With Arsenal’s midfield vacant and their defense all at sea, the Brazilian immediately threaded a ball through for Sturridge, who on this occasion made no mistake with a clinical finish past the beleaguered Szczesny.
Unsurprisingly, Liverpool took a step back for the remainder of the half. Still, Arsenal had nothing to offer and failed to even threaten the opposition goal. At the start of the second half, Liverpool increased the intensity once more and soon got further reward.
Toure ambled out of the back, looked forward and played a simple ball that allowed Sterling to race in behind Mertesacker. The sprightly winger’s first effort was saved well by Szczesny, but after the the ball came straight back to him, he made no mistake second time around.
The only blot on a memorable day for Liverpool came when Gerrard went in recklessly on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the box and Arteta beat Simon Mignolet from the spot.
It mattered little. This was a day to savor for Liverpool fans, who must surely feel that a return to the Champions League beckons and, with Manchester City and Chelsea still to visit Anfield, perhaps even more.