LIVERPOOL: Fear had stalked Arsenal, while they led the Premier League for much of the way through the first half of the season. Fear that the squad was too thin and the defence frail. Fear, in effect, that it could not last.
On Saturday lunchtime all those fears were realized in a 5:1 defeat at Liverpool which could have been even heavier. Even allowing for Liverpool’s resurgence under Brendan Rodgers, this was a nightmare for the Gunners and their manager Arsene Wenger, their heaviest defeat by Liverpool since 1964.
Liverpool charged through a gap a mile wide between Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny in the centre of defence, to harvest an explosive salvo of four goals in the opening 20 minutes.
The first two goals, in the opening 10 minutes, came from Martin Skrtel and both – infuriatingly for Wenger – from set pieces. England skipper Steven Gerrard provided the assists, first with a left-wing free kick then with a right-wing corner.
Further strikes from Raheem Sterling (two) and Daniel Sturridge. Mikel Arteta converted the consolation of a second-half penalty for Arsenal who were fortunate to escape without conceding more goals. Sterling was only 10 years old the last time Wenger won anything and seven of Liverpool’s players were still at school.
Luis Suarez, magnificent even though he did not score, volleyed against a a post. It was a foul on Suarez by Mertesacker which provided the free kick for Skrtel’s 83rd-second opening goal.
Arsenal’s defence was given no protection by their midfield in which Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla were fringe figures, bypassed by Liverpool’s penetrative passing and speed on the break.
Ozil and Olivier Giroud gave way to Tomas Rosicky and Lukas Podolski on the hour, without any negligible effect. Liverpool, by contrast, could afford to take off Gerrard and Sturridge merely to save them for battles ahead.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was delighted, saying: “It was an amazing performance against an outstanding side. Everything was was incredible. Arsenal have wonderful players but our intensity, organisation and pressing – everything about our game – was outstanding.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had praise only for the club’s travelling faithful.
He said: “It was a very poor day. Only our fans were good for 90 minutes – the rest were poor offensively and defensively. We were always caught in slow motion and on top of that we were caught on two setpieces at the start.
“Liverpool played very well but it raises some questions because we were caught many times and we were naive. Defensively we must be more stable. We were too open. Every acceleration from Liverpool was deadly for us. Now we have to bounce back as quickly as possible.”
Wenger’s bad day continued on the journey home when he slipped and fell at Liverpool’s Lime Street station. Wenger picked himself up. His team must now do the same – at home to Manchester United on Wednesday.