By Matt Ramirez – @Matt_J_Ramirez
Liverpool went NINE points clear at the top of the Premier League after a commanding 5-1 victory over Arsenal at Anfield.
The visitors took the lead on the night, but a two-minute Roberto Firmino brace saw Jürgen Klopp’s side sink any hope of an upset. Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah also got on the score-sheet, before Firmino rounded off his hat-trick for the table-toppers.
Following their 4-0 demolition of Newcastle on Wednesday night, Klopp named only one change to the starting XI, bringing on Fabinho in the place of Jordan Henderson. The Brazilian, who scored his first goal for the club only three days ago, partnered Gini Wijnaldum in the base of midfield, as the Reds lined up in their ever more popular 4-2-3-1 formation.
The Reds didn’t get off to a flying start, going behind after 10 minutes through Ainsley Maitland-Niles. A long ball forward by Dejan Lovren saw Liverpool lose possession whilst they were in transition – with Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold caught flying forward, leaving Virgil nan Dijk outnumbered in defence.
A quick ‘one-two’ between Alex Iwobi and Aaron Ramsey, saw the Nigerian winger released unchallenged down the Liverpool right flank and set to cross in a ball for the arriving Arsenal reinforcements.
Van Dijk had Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang in his sights but was unable to contend with the arriving Maitland-Niles, as Iwobi’s cross found the Englishman at the back post, with the goal at his mercy. For the first time in 2018, Liverpool fell behind in a League game at Anfield.
Despite the audible shock around the ground, Anfield didn’t have to wait long for an equaliser, being behind for only three minutes before Firmino levelled it in the 13th minute.
The Brazilian picked up the ball deep and charged forward before finding Salah. The Egyptian went to shoot, but saw the ball deflect off two Arsenal defenders before falling at the feet of the No.9. Firmino found himself in front of an empty net, tapping it in to the relief of the Anfield faithful – but the celebrations didn’t end there.
Still bouncing from the rapid equaliser, Anfield was in celebrations two minutes later as Klopp’s boys turned the game on its head and took the lead.
Mané won possession off Lucas Torreira in the centre of the park, allowing the Brazilian to run unchallenged at the Arsenal back line. The number 9 showed composure and flair as he beat Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos before stroking the ball past Bernd Leno with the inside of his left boot. Within three minutes, Liverpool had turned the score around, leading the game after 15 minutes.
After taking the lead, Liverpool took control of the match and extended their lead again in the 30th minute.
A poor Liverpool corner was cleared out to Robertson on the half-way line. The Scotland captain picked up his head, before launching an inch-perfect cross field pass which fell perfectly at the feet of Salah in the penalty area.
The Egyptian, who had beaten the Arsenal offside trap, passed the ball across goal to Mané with his first touch, leaving the Senegalese winger with the goal at his mercy. Leno was scrambling, but his efforts were fruitless as the number 10 notched his eighth Premier League goal of the season.
Liverpool looked set to enter the break 3-1 up, but some quick thinking from Alisson saw Liverpool set off on a rapid counter-attack, culminating in a penalty being awarded after a foul on Salah in the 45th minute.
Having scored his penalty against Newcastle, the Egyptian stepped up to the spot, and powered it past the sprawling Arsenal keeper. Blasting the ball straight down the middle and rippling the net to the delight of Kopites round the world.
From 1-0 down after 10 minutes, Klopp’s side finished the half 4-1 up, and with a nine-point Premier League lead already looking assured.
If there was any doubt of the result amongst fans at half time, it was wiped out in the 65th minute as Firmino claimed his hat-trick. A shove on Lovren in the Arsenal box saw another penalty awarded to the Reds, with Salah stepping aside to allow the Brazilian to take it.
The No.9 had missed three out of his previous five penalties for Liverpool, but stepped up confidently, dispatching it past Leno and firing it into the top right corner of the net. Despite the seemingly assured victory, Firmino would have been doubly pleased as the hat-trick was his first in Liverpool colours.
With City on the horizon, Liverpool professionally saw out the remainder of the half, keeping possession well and frustrating their visitors. The commanding lead also gave Klopp the opportunity to rest some key players, with Mané, Wijnaldum and Robertson all being given a few more minutes to recover.
The victory sees the Reds go 238 days without a loss in the Premier League, and finish 2018 unbeaten at Anfield. Klopp can now look forward to January 3rd, when they travel to the Etihad to face Manchester City, in what could be a title deciding fixture.