A patched-up Liverpool suffer crucial back-to-back Premier League defeats after being put to the sword by a rampant Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium…
With Martin Skrtel suspended, Kolo Toure made his first start for three months, while Lucas Leiva and Lazar Markovic also came into the team as Daniel Sturridge was deemed fit enough only for the bench.
A confident start by Arsenal, coupled with some early sloppiness from the visitors, gifted quick-fire openings to Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey, the latter two being brilliantly saved by Simon Mignolet.
It was one-way traffic throughout the opening 15 minutes in fact, with the Gunners pressing Liverpool at a frantic pace and pinning them back in their own half.
Liverpool’s rare forays forward were firmly consigned to counter-attacks as they attempted to utilise the pace of Raheem Sterling up against Per Mertesacker.
They should have taken a shock lead in the 19th minute though when Markovic burst through, but the Serbian decided to square the ball for Sterling and completely overhit a fairly simple pass.
The Reds were finally growing into the game as Philippe Coutinho and Sterling both narrowly missed the target with decent efforts from the edge of the area.
A period of Liverpool dominance around the half hour mark could easily have produced a goal but the final pass was always fractionally out.
The opening strike finally arrived in the 37th minute and it came from a surprising source as Arsenal right-back Hector Bellerin stepped inside Alberto Moreno, far too easily it should be said, before expertly slotting past Mignolet.
It was a harsh blow for the visitors who had done so well since weathering the early storm and Brendan Rodgers‘ side soon fell two behind when Mesut Ozil brilliantly curled a free-kick into the far corner.
On the stroke of half-time, and seconds after Markovic had almost pounced on a delightful Coutinho pass, Sanchez thumped in number three to leave Liverpool in total disarray.
Rodgers unsurprisingly called for star striker Daniel Sturridge during the interval but the game already looked as good as over.
Olivier Giroud and Sterling exchanged early efforts at the start of the second half as the hosts were forced into introducing new signing Gabriel Paulista for Laurent Koscielny.
Giroud should have got himself on the scoresheet in the 55th minute but his point-blank header was miraculously tipped over by Mignolet.
At the other end, Emre Can forced a good stop out of David Ospina and Coutinho fired a low drive fractionally wide as Liverpool commendably continued to commit men forward in search of an unlikely route back into the contest.
Sterling had a penalty claim against Bellerin turned down, probably correctly, in the 67th minute as the game briefly began to meander towards its conclusion.
Ten minutes later and the same two were involved when Sterling again went to ground in the box, only this time referee Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot.
The young Spanish defender, already on a caution, was perhaps a tad fortunate not to receive a yellow card which would have seen him heading for an early bath.
Ospina got a strong hand on Jordan Henderson‘s spot kick but couldn’t keep it out as the Merseysiders briefly threatened a memorable comeback.
Arsenal substitute Danny Welbeck missed a great opportunity to make the game safe with 10 minutes to play but it never looked like proving costly.
Even less so when Can was dismissed shortly afterwards for a second bookable offence after clumsily lunging in on Welbeck near the corner flag.
Giroud beautifully added number four in injury time shortly after Cazorla had struck the post.
That was a chastening experience despite a well-executed, face-saving showing during the second 45 minutes. To go from keeping six away clean sheets in a row to conceding three goals in eight minutes at the end of the first half was stark, especially after we had begun to get on top after some early struggles. Fundamentally we defended poorly and missed too many chances; many aspects of the game, particularly in the first 45 minutes, resembled the 3-0 defeat against Manchester United at Old Trafford in December. It’s great in theory to play out from the back but unfortunately the likes of Mignolet, Toure, Sakho and, to a lesser degree, Lucas just aren’t good enough at it, especially against a side with the speed and potency of Arsenal. A likely eight point deficit, effectively nine with our terrible goal difference, means our top four hopes are all but over and all attention must now turn to the FA Cup replay with Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday night; a tricky fixture which must now be tackled without three key players through suspension.
Simon Mignolet – Some will question his positioning on the second goal, or perhaps even his reaction for the third, but make no mistake without Mignolet, Arsenal could have scored seven or eight today. The Belgium international produced a string of fantastic saves and showed some nifty footwork on a couple of occasions too.
Mignolet, Can, Toure, Sakho, Moreno, Henderson (c), Lucas, Allen, Coutinho, Markovic (Sturridge 45′), Sterling.
Unused subs: Jones, Johnson, Lovren, Manquillo, Brannagan, Borini.
So that’s what we thought about the game, how about you? Let us know your verdict below or vote in our MOTM poll to the right…
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