LONDON: Chelsea defeated Newcastle to go top of the Premier League after previous leaders Arsenal collapsed spectacularly to a 5-1 defeat at Liverpool – who struck an explosive salvo of four goals in the opening 20 minutes.
The first two goals, in the opening 10 minutes, came from Martin Skrtel, followed by further strikes from Rahim Sterling (two) and Daniel Sturridge. Mikel Arteta converted a second-half penalty for Arsenal who were even fortunate to escape without conceding more goals.
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.”
Skrtel’s first came in the 43rd second when the central defender lurched forward to connect from close range with a Steven Gerrard free kick after Per Mertesacker had tugged back Luis Suarez, dashing down the left wing.
The centre back scored his second from another set piece with a perfectly-directed header to a right-wing corner. Again the perfect delivery came from skipper Gerrard.
Arsenal, rocking on their heels, were lucky not to fall further behind. Daniel Sturridge, clear from the middle, chipped wide of an open goal, then Suarez struck the post.
The Gunners had to wait until the 15th minute for their first serious incursion into Liverpool territory when Mertesacker glance-headed a right-wing corner across the face of goal.
But one minute later the game was all over as Liverpool raced away on the break and Suarez crossed for Rahim Sterling to sidfefoot the ball home from close range.
Arsenal’s wide-open defence was ripped apart in the 20th minute when Sturridge ran clear through the middle yet again on to Philippe Coutinho’s penetrating pass and shot up beyond keeper Wojciech Szczesny’s right hand.
Sterling struck again six minutes after half-time, with Arsenal again left struggling in his wake. Szcsesny blocked his initial, right foot shot but the ball popped back to Sterling who put into the left with his left.
Arsenal claimed a consolation in the 59th minute when Mikel Arteta converted a penalty after Gerrard tripped Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
But Liverpool remained so much in command that manager Brendan Rodgers could afford to take off Gerrard and Sturridge and save them for battles ahead.
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.”
This may be easier said than done: Arsenal are home to Manchester United in midweek.
Chelsea capitalised on Arsenal’s failure with Eden Hazard scoring a hat-trick in acomfortable 3-0 defeat of Newcastle.
Hazard, labelled the best young player in the world by manager Jose Mourinho, went a long way to living up to that billing as he swept home a fine opener from the edge of the box on 27 minutes
The Belgian made it two on 34 minutes, converting smartly after a superb one-two in the area with Samuel Eto’o. The former Lille playmaker celebrated his treble in the second half, converting from the spot after Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa brought down Eto’o.
While Chelsea appear to be hitting their straps in the title race, the opposite was true of Manchester City.
After Monday’s damaging 1-0 defeat at home to Chelsea, City hoped to return to free-scoring ways at Norwich but came up short as Chris Hughton’s hosts earned a notable 0-0 draw.
At the other end of the table Swansea, Crystal Palace, West Ham and Hull all claimed important wins in their fight to beat the drop.
Swansea’s surprise midweek sacking of Michael Laudrup appeared to be vindicated as Gary Monk’s first game in charge brought an emphatic 3:0 Welsh derby win over struggling, promoted Cardiff City. It was Swansea’s biggest derby victory since 1995.
No fewer than three debutants were on the scoresheet as Crystal Palace won 3-1 against West Bromwich who slipped into the bottom three.
Tom Ince, signed from Blackpool on deadline day, marked his Eagles bow with a goal after 15 minutes, while Joe Ledley, newly arrived from Celtic, made it two just before the half-hour.
Another debutant on show needed just 60 seconds to announce his arrival in English football as West Brom’s Thievy Bifouma, on loan from Espanyol, scored after entering the action as a half-time substitute.
Palace made the points safe in the 69th minute when Marouane Chamakh won and scored their third from a disputed penalty.
West Ham overcame the disappointment of losing Andy Carroll’s suspension appeal to win 2-0 at Aston Villa. Kevin Nolan scored both goals inside the first three minutes of the second half to life Hammers out of the relegation zone.
Consolation for Villa manager Paul Lambert is that the club have opened talks on a contract extension.
Hull completed the double over Sunderland with goals from new boys Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic earning a 2-0 win at the Stadium of Light. Sunderland were upset by yet another dismissal for Wes Brown – this time after only four minutes – a professional foul on Long. It was Brown’s third red card in 11 weeks.
Southampton and Stoke played out an entertaining 2-2 draw. A Rickie Lambert free-kick put the Saints into the lead but Stoke pulled level seven minutes before the break through Peter Odemwingie, his first goal since his transfer window arrival.
The hosts immediately restored their advantage through Steven Davis before Stoke levelled a second time through Saints old boy Peter Crouch.
** The Liverpool-Arsenal match was preceded by a one-minute’s applause in memory of former Reds centre-forward Tony Hateley who died, aged 72, last Saturday.