Liverpool destroy league leaders Arsenal at Anfield to add extra intrigue to one of the most exciting and open title races of all time…
Brendan Rodgers named an unchanged team for the third consecutive match despite talk of Joe Allen coming into the midfield.
Prior to kick-off an emotional period of applause for former record signing Tony Hateley, who passed away last week, was held.
The mark of respect added to an already rocking atmosphere which exploded further within two minutes of the game starting when the hosts took the lead.
Luis Suarez caught Per Mertesacker napping on the left-hand touchline to earn his side a free-kick.
As he has done so many times before, captain Steven Gerrard duly whipped in a brilliant cross which Martin Skrtel turned home despite visiting keeper Wojciech Szczesny getting an arm to the ball.
Daniel Sturridge forced the Polish shot stopper into further action a couple of minutes later with a low drive from distance but Szczesny held on well.
Arsenal briefly settled as the opening 10 minutes progressed and were almost handed an equaliser when Simon Mignolet punched straight at Jon Flanagan.
Fortunately Skrtel was on hand to rescue the situation and turn the ricochet behind for a corner before a visiting player could pounce.
Flanagan was quickly involved at the other end following good work by Sturridge but Szczesny was again alive to cut out the cross with Suarez lurking.
There was nothing he could do from the resulting corner though as Gerrard and Skrtel combined once more with the latter brilliantly converting a looping header into the corner of the net.
Remarkably Sturridge could have made it 3-0 inside 12 minutes but the England international sent his effort wide after a great move involving Philippe Coutinho and Suarez.
What had already been one of the most impressive opening periods to a game I’ve ever seen from Liverpool almost went to a whole new level moments later.
Suarez deftly controlled a miss-hit Gerrard corner and, despite heading away from goal, thumped an astonishing swivelled volley against the post.
Kolo Toure even had a chance to turn home the rebound but he couldn’t react quickly enough to get a firmer touch on the ball and it bounced agonisingly wide.
It wasn’t to matter, the third arrived in the 17th minute; Raheem Sterling tucking home a pinpoint Suarez cross from close range.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was livid on the touchline believing Mezut Ozil had been fouled in the buildup by Jordan Henderson. Replays would suggest otherwise though.
Three unbelievably become four in the 20th minute and finally the SAS got themselves onto the scoresheet.
A fantastic through-ball by Coutinho picked out Sturridge, who in turn fired pass an exposed and helpless Szczesny.
To put things into context, Arsenal had the best defensive record in the top flight at kick-off in terms of clean sheets kept and, at The Emirates in November, were the last team to shut out Liverpool.
The Reds also hadn’t beaten Arsenal in the league, home or away, for almost seven years. That record was already broken despite the game having well over an hour to play; the league leaders had been absolutely destroyed.
Despite the hosts unsurprisingly taking their collective foot off the gas as the break approached, openings continued to arise at regular intervals.
The Gunners threatened occasionally but only on the counter-attack when a surge forward from the hosts had broken down.
Arsenal’s players and supporters will have been relieved to hear the half-time whistle without suffering further punishment.
With harsh words no doubt wringing in their ears, they started the second period much more positively.
A burst forward by Jack Wilshere was halted illegally by Henderson and Santi Cazorla went close with the resulting free-kick.
It was short lived however as Sterling got his second and Liverpool’s fifth at the second time of asking.
The goal come from a powerful run and ball from Toure as the Ivorian further made up for the error which cost the Merseysiders a win against West Bromwich Albion last weekend.
Sterling could have had his hat-trick in the 55th minute but Szczesny was alert to thwart the diminutive winger at the far post after yet another expert Gerrard set-piece delivery.
Arsenal finally showed some commendable fight and spirit around the hour mark as Mignolet made a quick double save to keep out a flicked Olivier Giroud header and a low drive from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Wenger proceeded to make a triple substitution but it was clearly with an eye on Wednesday’s match with Manchester United as opposed to rescuing anything from the trip to Anfield.
An opportunist Suarez free-kick was inches away from number six but Szczesny managed to get across and produce a wonder save after initially setting himself for a cross.
Fantastic footwork by Coutinho instantly turned defence into attack shortly afterwards but Henderson could not match the Brazilian’s approach work with an accurate shot.
Arsenal were finally given cause for cheer when Gerrard needlessly felled Oxlade-Chamberlain inside the area in the 69th minute and Mikel Arteta gained some consolation from the spot.
Spurred by the goal, Wenger’s outfit began to show why they have enjoyed such success this season with some intricate passing play.
During the spell, Mignolet produced a fine fingertip save to keep out a well-struck Arteta free-kick.
Coutinho, Sterling and Aly Cissokho all went close to adding another for Liverpool before the end but ultimately the score would remain 5-1.
The fact that Rodgers had seen fit to substitute Sturridge, Gerrard and Suarez during the second half said everything about a game that was effectively over as a contest inside 20 minutes.
Wow! We’ve seen this Liverpool side blow opponents away on a number of occasions this season, most notably Tottenham Hotspur and Norwich City. But to do it to the league leaders, and a side undefeated in their nine previous fixtures, was astonishing. An incredible performance. The opening 30 minutes could easily have yielded six or seven goals as we looked threatening with each and every attack. Understandably we couldn’t keep the tempo and intensity up for 90 minutes but even in a more subdued second half there were still plenty of chances created. Arsenal were below their best of course, but on this form we would have won anyway. The trick now is to beat Fulham in midweek and not drop points when we are expected to win as we’ve done previously against West Brom and Aston Villa in recent weeks. Talk of a late title surge will no doubt surface but fourth has to remain the primary aim. Anything more than that will be a great achievement at this stage in our development under Rodgers.
Martin Skrtel – There were some phenomenal individual showings from front to back and this is one of the hardest MOTM selections I can remember. Suarez, Gerrard, Coutinho and Sterling all excelled but I’m going to go for Skrtel. The big Slovak was the catalyst with his two early strikes and a couple of crucial defensive interceptions at the other end also proved crucial.
Mignolet, Flanagan, Skrtel, Toure, Cissokho, Gerrard (Ibe 76′), Henderson, Coutinho, Sterling, Suarez (Aspas 86′), Sturridge (Allen 66′).
Unused subs: Jones, Kelly, Alberto, Moses.
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