Liverpool extended their lead at the top of the Premier League to an imposing nine points with a devastating attacking dismissal of Arsenal at Anfield – with hat-trick hero Roberto Firmino the inspiration.
Arsenal took the lead after only 11 minutes when Ainsley Maitland-Niles slid in at the far post to score from Alex Iwobi’s cross – but it was a false dawn for Unai Emery’s side.
Liverpool, lifted after title rivals Tottenham’s home defeat by Wolverhampton Wanderers earlier, responded with an explosive display that saw them 4-1 up by the interval and on their way to extending their unbeaten league run to 20 games.
Firmino took advantage of Arsenal’s defensive confusion to quickly equalise then slalom past a posse of defenders to put Liverpool in front after Lucas Torreira lost possession, all in the space of two minutes.
Sadio Mane extended Liverpool’s lead after 32 minutes when Andrew Robertson’s long cross exposed Arsenal after they needlessly conceded a corner.
Mohamed Salah then effectively ended the contest from the penalty spot in first-half stoppage time having been fouled by Sokratis.
Liverpool cruised to close out the win in the second half, Firmino completing his hat-trick from the spot after 65 minutes following Sead Kolasinac’s push on Dejan Lovren.
Manchester City, 10 points adrift, will attempt to close the gap at Southampton on Sunday before they meet Liverpool in a pivotal encounter at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday, 3 January.
Liverpool deliver an ominous response
When Liverpool went behind to Maitland-Niles’ 11th minute strike, it was the first time they had trailed at Anfield in the Premier League since Leicester City led here on 30 December last year.
If there were any nerves troubling the new Premier League pace-setters, this might have been the moment for them to show – but not a bit of it.
Liverpool, admittedly helped by Arsenal and by a huge roar that swept around Anfield, were ahead in five minutes thanks to two Firmino goals and never looked back.
Instead of shrinking in the face of a setback, it was simply a case of Arsenal prodding the beast as Liverpool swarmed forward in the style that has become their trademark under Jurgen Klopp to record another statement win in this hugely impressive season.
After a period earlier in the campaign when the sparkle of last season was not quite there, Liverpool’s stardust is being sprinkled once more, in the main by that potent attacking trident of Firmino, Mane and Salah.
And the signs are ominous for the chasing pack, effectively Spurs and Manchester City, who are out to deprive Liverpool of their first title since 1990.
They have won 88 points from 37 league games in this calendar year – the highest points ratio in that spell in the club’s history at 2.38 points per game.
This statistic alone outlines the scale of their performances and means they are now rightly title favourites.
Liverpool’s greatest test of the season now awaits when they travel to Manchester City – but such is the level of confidence surging through a team that looks more like the complete package with every passing week, it is a challenge they will accept without any degree of concern.
Arsenal a team of two halves
Arsenal, in spells in the first half, posed a genuine threat to Liverpool and even had the brief hope given to them when Maitland-Niles put them ahead early on.
The Gunners, however, were let down by defending that threatened to give farce a bad name and they were blown away by half-time.
From Torreira’s clearance that allowed Firmino to waltz past a statuesque selection of Arsenal defenders as Liverpool went ahead, to keeper Bernd Leno’s cheap concession of a corner that eventually ended in Mane’s crucial third, Arsenal were complicit in allowing Klopp’s side to inflict damage on them.
Emery has produced much to admire in the early phases of his succession to Arsene Wenger but Arsenal have stumbled since Southampton ended their 22-match unbeaten run with a 3-2 defeat at St Mary’s.
The Gunners lost in the Carabao Cup at home to Tottenham and were held to a draw by Brighton before this loss – and it is clear where Emery’s problems lie.
Arsenal have potency going forward, particularly in the shape of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette – on the bench here – but keeper Leno looks vulnerable and Liverpool’s quality and intensity going forward hurt them as they are so defensively flawed against top-class opposition.
They were the first visitors to concede four first-half goals since they themselves were the victims of another Liverpool blitz in February 2014.
In the final reckoning, this was why this was yet another tale of Arsenal misery at Anfield.
Man of the match – Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)
‘I almost cried’ – what they said
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp: “It’s clear it was a wide game. We were really good and did exactly what we wanted to do. We wanted to press them and cut off their build-up. They pressed us as well so it was wild. But then when you get the ball you need to calm down.
“The response was world-class. We knew in the second half that the game wasn’t finished so we wanted to control it. Mo Salah gave the penalty to Bobby and I almost cried because we all know how much Mo wants to score goals. It was really nice.
“Overall 5-1 against Arsenal doesn’t happen too often so I’m really happy with the boys. In 2018 I have nothing to moan about.”
Arsenal manager Unai Emery: “We need to be serious but continue. The result here is difficult. It was a big test and how the difference is between Liverpool and us, I don’t think it is as much as the score.
“Getting into the box against them was hard with their quality and determination. We need to do better work defensively. We are scoring a lot of goals but conceding more than we would want to.
“We are going to play Fulham next and we must recover our mentality in front of our supporters and try to win.”
A high-scoring affair – the stats
- Arsenal versus Liverpool, with 155 goals, is now the highest scoring fixture in Premier League history.
- Liverpool have accrued 54 points from their opening 20 Premier League games this season; under the system of three points for a win, only Chelsea (55 in 2005-06) and Manchester City (58 in 2017-18) have ever had more at this stage in English top-flight history.
- Jurgen Klopp’s side are now unbeaten in 31 Premier League games at Anfield, their joint-longest ever unbeaten home run in the competition, having also gone 31 without defeat between December 2007 and August 2009.
- The Reds fell behind in a Premier League game at Anfield for the first time since 30 December, 2017 against Leicester City, 364 days ago.
- Arsenal conceded four goals in the first half of a Premier League game for the fourth time, with Liverpool responsible for two of those – also in February 2014.
- Arsenal are now without a win in their last 20 away league games against fellow “big-six” opposition, losing 10 of their last 12 such matches.
- Roberto Firmino has been directly involved in 11 goals in his eight Premier League games against Arsenal for Liverpool, more than he has against any other opponent in the competition.
- Firmino’s hat-trick is the sixth to have been scored in fixtures between Arsenal and Liverpool in the Premier League – the most hat-tricks in a single fixture in Premier League history. He becomes the third Brazilian player to score a Premier League hat-trick.
- Mohamed Salah has both scored and assisted in the same Premier League game for the 10th time since the start of last season for Liverpool; only Neymar (11) has done so on more occasions in the big-five European leagues in that time.
Arsenal host Fulham on New Year’s Day (15:00 GMT) while Liverpool travel to Etihad Stadium to face reigning champions Manchester City on Thursday, 3 January (20:00).