Liverpool demolishes Arsenal at Anfield

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By the end of this demolition it was hard to remember that Liverpool had initially fallen behind, for the first time at Anfield in the league for almost a year and then came roaring back with a hat-trick for Roberto Firmino and one each for his attacking companions Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane. 

Klopp’s team start 2019 at the home of the champions, still unbeaten and playing the football of their lives – and it feels like they will have to if the clock ticking on the club’s 19th  league championship is to stop at 28 years this May.

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It took both of these teams to make this the magnificent game it turned out to be, and while a pulsating first half ended heavily in Liverpool’s favour, Arsenal came with the intention of playing their game. Unai Emery demanded that his players take the ball off their goalkeeper and pass it forward and while at times it was between-the-finger viewing it was certainly brave.

Both teams pushed right up on each other, playing slightly different formations but with essentially the same intention: to squeeze the opposition until the ball popped out. In attack, Emery selected Aaron Ramsey behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the first half and while neither of them had much joy it was the wide players that created and finished Arsenal’s opening goal.

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The 21-year-old Maitland-Niles made some errors but when he was isolated with Robertson he had the beating of the Scot. The early lead last barely three minutes and the equaliser came via the first of many errors between Arsenal’s defenders. This time Stephan Lichtsteiner played a clearance against Shkodran Mustafi and suddenly Firmino, who had started the move, was in. There are few players as composed with just the goalkeeper to beat.

The Brazilian had his second within two minutes when Sadio Mane pinched the ball from Lucas Torreira in midfield and suddenly Arsenal’s defence was backpedalling with Firmino bearing down on them. He could see that Mustafi and Sokratis were hesitant and immobile and the Liverpool man stepped past one and then the other without too much trouble – they never looked like tackling him.

Liverpool had retaken the lead in a blitz that energised Anfield. It had been 364 days, since they had last fallen behind in the league at home, when Jamie Vardy scored for Leicester after three minutes, and Klopp’s team had responded without a flicker of doubt. Now it was Arsenal on the back foot again and as they stuck to the ambitious gameplan that Emery had set out, Liverpool struck again and again.

The third goal showed a different dimension, with a weak corner from the right cleared to Robertson on the halfway line who switched the ball onto his left foot and picked out Salah in the box; from there it went first time to Mane who finished beautifully. This was a more direct approach but again the question begged itself: where was the Arsenal defensive resolve?

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The fourth was a penalty, conceded by Sokratis who ran into the back of Salah when the Egyptian had every intention of going down at first contact. The move had been expertly started by a drilled drop-kick from Alisson out to Firmino and Sokratis gave Salah just enough to go down. There were protests but the Egyptian picked himself up and drilled his penalty straight, so much so that Bernd Leno got a hand to it but could not save.

There were some angry words exchanged in the tunnel at half-time, with Sokratis enraged about the award of what Arsenal viewed as a soft penalty although it quickly became academic. The referee Michael Oliver was obliged to award another in the second half when Sead Kolasinac pushed Dejan Lovren over at a corner. This time it was Firmino who dispatched his hat-trick goal in front of the Kop.

Liverpool had five goals within 65 minutes and the home crowd could enjoy themselves. Klopp had substituted Mane before then, moving Xherdan Shaqiri to the wing and bringing on Jordan Henderson to tighten the grip on midfield. Henderson could even joke with the Kop at the end for an ambitious wayward lash at goal – it was that kind of evening.

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