Arsenal’s next three Premier League fixtures will tell us a lot as to whether they are worthy of a European place or if it’s a bridge too far for Mikel Arteta’s charges this season.
This was said to be the month of all months.
The festive period will make or break one’s season. We were always going to learn much about Jurgen Klopp’s title crusaders. Games against their fiercest rivals, their neighbours across Stanley Park, as well as tricky Wolves and Bournemouth all proved difficult challenges in their own manner.
Yet, Liverpool remained perfect. 18 points from a possible 18, as well as 17 goals scored and three conceded across six games.
Arsenal were meant to provide a fierce examination of the hosts despite conceding 17 goals in their past five visits to Anfield. Early on they certainly did, with the game starting at a frantic pace, emblematic of Liverpool and Arsenal tussles in bygone seasons.
Liverpool looked likely to breach the paper-thin Arsenal backline. The Gunners, however forgot to read the script.
On 11 minutes, Fabinho’s errant pass set up Arsenal’s foray with Alex Iwobi interchanging with Ramsey before firing a ball across the box. Waiting with glee was Ainsley Maitland-Niles, firing home into a half empty net. The youngster’s first goal for Arsenal sent shockwaves through the Kop End, with the red half of North London sent into surprised delirium.
The carelessness exhibited by Liverpool reminded those in red of ghosts past. Almost nine and a half years ago, Andrei Arshavin’s four goal cameo snatched the title away from Scouse clutches. Liverpudlians were within their rights to dread.
Thankfully for 45,000 Kopites these thoughts barely had time to roost, with Arsenal putting on a comedy show at the Anfield Road end.
Failing to deal with a Liverpool attack, Stephan Lichtsteiner kicked the ball into the unaware Shkodran Mustafi allowing the ball to bounce just yards out from their own goal. Roberto Firmino could have tapped it home with his eyes closed. Instead, the stylish Brazilian looked away as he guided the ball into the net.
Before you blinked Firmino was running at Arsenal again. Liverpool’s number nine slinked his way toward goal seating Sokratis, Mustafi and Torreira in the process.
With a sweeping left foot the samba star put Liverpool ahead from fifteen yards. Rendering Anfield a cauldron of joy. Such a breathtaking goal from a man who’s goalscoring prowess had been questioned of late. Queries no more.
If anyone was wondering how fickle football can be, here was your answer. In 93 seconds Liverpool had gone from being down 1-0, feeling the weight of expectation. To leading 2-1, playing like the champions they dream to be.
As the half progressed Arsenal found themselves overwhelmed and once again feeling the irrepressible pressure of Liverpool’s fervent attack. Just past the half hour, Sead Kolasinac belted the ball back toward Leno who scrambled, unintentionally putting the ball out for a corner.
At the second attempt, Arsenal were picked apart. Revealing themselves to be as secure as a cardboard safe. With one long diagonal ball, Andy Roberston picked out slippery Mo Salah, who had peeled off the back. A delightful first touch allowed the effervescent Egyptian to square to Sadio Mane, giving Liverpool a routine third. Effectively ending any Arsenal hopes.
Just when the Gunners felt the first half could not get any worse. Sokratis nibbled at Salah too many times, giving the Egyptian the opportunity to fling himself to the turf inside the area.
Michael Oliver obliged, handing Liverpool’s top scorer the chance from twelve yards. He did what he has done for 2018’s entirety – bury the ball in the back of the net. Leno got a touch, however it was not enough to deny Mo Salah his 37th in all competitions this calendar year.
Four goals in 45 for the Reds uplifted Anfield into a raucous standing ovation. The players seemed to get caught up in the emotion too. Sokratis took exception to Salah going down under contact, causing a verbal tussle in the tunnel before colossus Virgil Van Dijk stepped in.
After the restart, Liverpool rarely got out of second gear. Still in the festive mood, Arsenal and in particular Sead Kolasinac, gifted Liverpool were gifted an opportunity to make it five. The Bosnian mindlessly shoved over Dejan Lovren, with Michael Oliver subsequently awarding Liverpool yet another penalty.
Customary penalty taker Mo Salah selflessly gave his strike partner the chance to go home with the match ball. Firmino calmly stepped up and converted, claiming his first hat trick in Liverpool red. Jurgen Klopp left moved by the gesture; “I almost cried because we all know how much Mo wants to score goals. It was really nice.”
This shows what the current Liverpool side is all about. They are more than one star. More than the fabled front three. Rather a sum of their world-class parts. This is a team united by togetherness and thrilled in each other’s success. Bar Alberto Moreno’s outbursts in Spanish media this week, those outside the XI are driven to succeed and accept their roles week to week.
As the game entered the final ten minutes, Liverpool were in party mode. Passing the ball around with ease and comfort usually reserved for testimonials. This was as significant for Liverpool as humiliating for Arsenal.
Travelling north with a chance to spoil the party and claim their first win at Anfield since November of 2013. There was added motivation for Arsenal too, the opportunity to end the talk of Klopp’s side going the season unbeaten.
After starting so brightly, Arsenal fans were taken in a time machine back to the Wenger outings at Liverpool, with naivety all to show. Unai Emery’s side played with a high line even after taking the lead and even tried to pass their way through the red swarm trying to squeeze the life out of them. This has been Arsenal’s undoing on Merseyside before and was so again.
In attack, they offered very little with the Gabonese sensation Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang cutting a lonely figure up top. To sum up Arsenal’s day the spearhead completed 15 passes throughout the 90 minutes. Six of those came from the kick-off.
The floodlights shone bright over both sides in the Liverpool night, providing a blinding assessment of their fortunes. Arsenal have shown signs of progress both within this season and the 90 minutes.
They are a few windows away from competing, despite showing attacking proficiency rivalled by few. Whilst Liverpool will carry their seismic momentum into the New Year, and east to Manchester where they look to take an enormous step toward utopia.