FOX Soccer Exclusive
Liverpool wins laugher over Arsenal
A rampant Liverpool took Arsenal apart as the winds swirled about Anfield, blowing them away in a clinical 20-minute drill that saw Martin Skrtel, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling all score. When the dust settled, Liverpool had won out 5-1, and Arsenal’s title ambitions looked in real jeopardy.
The Gunners looked nothing like a team at the top of the Premier League table, while Liverpool looked everything like a team that deserves to be in Europe. This was simply an astonishing demolition of a London side that has been deserved leaders for months.
Instead, here, at the start of what promises to be a tough February for the Gunners -- and with another game against Liverpool in the FA Cup in just eight day’s time -- Arsenal crumbled. Make no mistake: this was a big test for a team many believe cannot stay the course. They flunked it.
Liverpool scored inside the first minute when Gerrard flighted in a free kick that eluded everyone on the Arsenal backline to find Skrtel alone. The finish wasn’t pretty -- he kneed it through Wojciech Szczesny -- but it sent the Kop End into rapture and had Arsene Wenger out of his seat, cursing.
Skrtel then powered in another just eight minutes later, with Gerrard flying in a corner that the Slovak met at the top of the box to head home to the top corner. Szczesny had support on the back post, but both men were unable to keep the ball out. Arsenal looked clueless on both goals, and came away from this one looking profoundly shaky. And it was then that the floodgates truly opened.
Roared on by the crowd, Liverpool looked like they could score with every touch of the ball – and very nearly did. Sturridge would spurn a chance, chipping a ball just wide of the far post, while Luis Suarez would volley a ball off the upright and out. Arsenal looked increasingly nervous and unsure, and Szczesny, in particular, bore the look of a man having a very bad day at the office.
Sterling would then add the third when Nacho Monreal coughed the ball up in the middle of the park, allowing Suarez to race down the far flank to cross in unmolested. Sterling was alone for an easy tap-in. Phillipe Coutinho provided the service for the fourth with an elegant pass that split Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny to allow a free attempt on net. He made no mistake.
With that goal, the away fans started to file out. The clock had rung up twenty just minutes.
This was easily Liverpool’s best and most complete performance this season. Aly Cissokho played a superb game, neutering the threat of Bacary Sagna out wide and forcing Arsenal into a congested middle of the pitch. Coutinho’s vision -- best shown on that perfectly weighted pass for the fourth goal -- was immaculate. And even poor Kolo Toure, who has been a weak link in this team, had an untroubled stroll. He even set up a goal on Saturday, Sterling’s second, with a lofted ball over the back line.
5 - This only the fourth time in PL history that Arsenal have conceded 5+ goals in a single game yet the second time this season. Slump.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 8, 2014
In contrast, Arsenal looked abject. It was their worst league showing in a first half since Manchester United had rung up four goals on them back in 2001. More worryingly, this was the first game since their opening day defeat that their vaunted midfield failed to show up. Mikel Arteta, so influential in these teams’ first meeting, was absent on the first goal, and consistently failed to provide any sort of support to his defense. Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere both had the languor of men playing in quicksand. And Mesut Ozil was atrocious, playing his worst game for the club since his arrival.
Mesut Özil: Recorded a WhoScored rating of 4.3 vs Liverpool, the lowest by an outfielder in a Premier League match this season #LivArs— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) February 8, 2014
Arsenal’s only goal came late when Gerrard needlessly slid in on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with twenty to play. Arteta put the spot-kick right down the gut. It was cold comfort.
And now the question is: how do Arsenal react? All the Premier League challengers have suffered setbacks this season, but Arsenal looked wholly unprepared for this test, and Brendan Rodgers’ team were ruthless in exploiting that. Arsenal, who next must face Manchester United at home before their return date with Liverpool Sunday in the League Cup, have shown resilience this season -- but have not suffered a humbling like this since December, when Manchester City whipped them 6-3. More worrying is that Arsenal have shown a tendency to flop in big games: in Napoli, at the Etihad, and now here.
"Overall we were very poor, and I include myself in that performance as well," said Wenger after the match. "It raises a lot of questions. And the only way to respond is on Wednesday night (against Manchester United). Yes, it is mathematically possible we can win the title of course, but we have to respond to this."
But for Liverpool -- who have made Anfield a fortress this season -- this was sweet revenge. They have now solidified their grasp on fourth and that precious European spot. They also sit just five points off the lead, and while even Rodgers admits that would be a leap too far, Liverpool’s fans will surely be dreaming of a dark horse run.
"I felt that we could have scored more, but I was very pleased how we managed the game," said Rodgers after the victory. "Our objective has always been to finish as high as possible. You saw that hunger for the ball and tat desire to win. Overall, it was brilliant."
Liverpool looked like one of the best teams in England on Saturday and in this wild year, anything can happen.
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