Liverpool produced a stellar performance against Premier League leaders Arsenal, winning 5-1, strengthening their top 4 position and doing no harm to their own title contender credentials. Arsenal raced to a 4-0 lead in the opening 20 minutes after braces from Martin Skrtel and Raheem Sterling, followed by a Daniel Sturridge strike to make it 5, with Mikel Arteta converting a second half penalty for Arsenal in reply
A Premier League fixture that has seen more hat-tricks scored than in any other fixture (five), leaders Arsenal travelled to Anfield seeking their 4th consecutive victory at Liverpool’s home ground, in what was anticipated to be an exciting match. The visitors are also the last side to stop the lethal “SAS” scoring against them in the 2-0 win at the Emirates in November.
It took just over a minute for Liverpool to signal their intent. Arsenal took the kick off and gave the ball away. Liverpool came back at them with Suarez running down a cul de sac wide from a long throw, but Mertesacker brought him down in a dangerous position on the left. Gerrard’s ball in was whipped in with pace, flicked off a Liverpool head before Martin Skrtel connected with the free kick and sent the ball high into the net for the opening goal, despite suspicions of offside during the goal.
Daniel Sturridge started wide on the right and his direct running had kept Monreal on the back foot constantly. He combined with Flanagan to force a corner and Gerrard’s delivery once again was whipped in with quality and Martin Skrtel got the run on Koscielny, turning his header into the top right corner past the diving Szczesny and Oxlade-Chamberlain on the post.
2-0 in under 10 minutes and this performance was certainly demonstrating the home team’s ambition. It was almost 3-0 moments later, when a triangle of passing football started by Gerrard, again, to Coutinho whose clipped ball was flicked into the path of Sturridge. He dinked the ball over the onrushing Szczesny but he narrowly put it wide. Luis Suarez turned and spun a venomous half volley that smashed against the angle of post and bar, but the rebound could not be turned in by Toure, as it hit him before he could really react.
Nobody expected this. Mesut Ozil was caught in possession on the halfway line allowing Henderson to carry the ball with attacking intent. He pushed the ball wide on the right to Suarez and his low cross evaded all Arsenal defenders and found Raheem Sterling at the far post for 3-0. Arsene Wenger and Steve Bould were fuming at the referee for not awarding a foul on Mesut Ozil, but replays showed the German went down from the momentum rather than the challenge.
It was soon 4-0 to Liverpool. Coutinho slipped a through ball around both Arsenal centre backs for Sturridge to stroke it past Szczesny for his 18th goal of the season, his 8th in the last 7 games. The players in yellow looked shell shocked after a nightmare 20 minutes and you began to fear what the final score could be.
Luckily for Arsenal, they managed to get into the game, keeping better possession and not allowing Liverpool as much time and space as before. They made it to half time without conceding anymore, but also without registering a shot on target.
Five minutes after the restart, it was 5-0 to the hosts. Raheem Sterling timed his run ahead of the Koscielny offside trap, chasing a Kolo Toure pass, and in flight, there’s no catching the young English winger. He converted his own rebound after his first tame effort was saved low by Szczesny as the Polish keeper could only knock it back to Sterling for his second try. The fifth goal was heralded by some of the travelling support making for the exits. Sterling almost grabbed his hat-trick, Liverpool’s 6th, but he flicked the ball into the side netting after another Gerrard free kick.
56 minutes were on the clock when Arsene Wenger’s team manufactured their first shots on target but neither effort really tested Mignolet who had had nothing more than the role of spectator this afternoon.
There were chances missed for 6 when Suarez, full on 40 yards, brought the best out of Szczesny to keep the ball out of the top corner before playmaker-in-chief, Coutinho beat his man and split the Arsenal defence to find Henderson but his chip bent wide. Sterling saw Szczesny get down low once again to prevent the hat-trick late on.
With 20 minutes to play, the Gunners did get their consolation goal. Steven Gerrard lunged in on Oxlade-Chamberlain, giving Michael Oliver no choice but to point to the spot. Mikel Arteta strolled up to the ball and side footed it down the middle for 5-1, met by ironic cheers ringing throughout Anfield.
Liverpool took their foot off the pedal and allowed Arsenal back into the game when there was nothing no longer at stake. This big victory has brought them within 5 points of Arsenal whilst offering the opportunity for Chelsea and Man City who play later today, to overtake the North London club. The two sides meet again in the FA Cup on Sunday as important fixtures come thick and fast for Arsenal; how they react from this game will show the character of the squad.
Liverpool: Mignolet; Flanagan, Cissokho, Toure, Skrtel; Gerrard (Ibe 75), Henderson, Sterling, Coutinho; Suarez (Aspas 85), Sturridge (Allen 65)
Arsenal: Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal (Gibbs 59); Wilshere, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Ozil (Rosicky 59); Giroud (Podolski 59)