LONDON: The margin of Liverpool’s latest 4-0 dismissal of Arsenal at Anfield was misleading. Six or seven goals would not have been undeserved both as a margin of victory and demonstration of how far the Gunners are sliding and slithering away from the Premier League elite.
Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane in the first half then Mohamed Salah and substitute Daniel Sturridge in the second scored the goals which crowned a dominant performance in which they sliced Arsenal apart, piece by ineffective and disorganised piece.
Liverpool’s home fixture against Arsenal has possessed extra spice ever since the Gunners stole the 1989 league title from the Reds by winning at Anfield on the last day of the season.
Jurgen Klopp confronted the challenge by surprisingly bringing Loris Karius into goal for his first appearance of the season in place of Simon Mignolet. The Belgian World Cup keeper was not even on the substitutes’ bench.
Possibly Klopp was hoping to prop up Karius’s confidence after the mistakes which cost him his place in the first half of last season. This was his first Premier start since last December.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger sprang his own surprises, dropping new centre-forward Alexandre Lacazette to the subs’ bench to allow for the return of unsettled Alexis Sanchez. Yet the Chilean is not the only Gunner who may be changing clubs in the next three days. Wingback Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was also in the starting line-up shop window.
Last season the two teams had better attacks than defences and little appears to have changed. Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck and Liverpool’s Mo Salah both wasted early openings. Salah’s failure to score was the more grievious since he was virtually on top of goal when keeper Petr Cech blocked the ball at his feet.
Arsenal’s defensive fragility raised further concerns about the decision to loan Gabriel to Valencia and possible departures of leftback Kieran Gibbs (to Watford) and Shkodran Mustafi. Roberto Firmino proved the point when he darted in through the Gunners’ defence after 16 minutes to head home a right-wing cross from Joe Gomez.
Firmino created the next dangerous opening. Mesut Ozil was caught badly in possession by Jordan Henderson and failed to chase back but was fortunate that the Liverpool captain pushed his shot wide after a neat return pass from the Brazilian.
Klopp’s faith in Firmino was being completely vindicated. Before the game Klopp had said: “Roberto is an unbevelievable player. The challenges he made defensively against Hoffenheim, chasing them vrom behind, all over the pitch – they couldn’t get rid of him. That is the sort of character you need to make the step with this team.”
Liverpool were cutting Arsenal to ribbons. Salah was foiled by Cech then had a goal disallowed for offside after the outstanding Emre Can found him through the middle. Klopp’s team were playing so well that Philippe Coutinho, the subject of prolonged summer interest fom Barcelona, was not being missed.
Rob Holding, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal – Arsenal’s three centre-backs – were in danger of being overwhelmed. It was no surorise when Liverpool scored a second after a wonderful pitch-length move. It all began with three touches out of dfence, a magnificent forward pass from Firmino (again!) and then superb twist back and angled, curling shot home from Sadio Mane.
The second half had been under way only 12 minutes when Liverpool scored a third. Arsenal forced a corner, Hector Bellerin was beaten in the air by Salah when Liverpool cleared and the winger raced away from halfway to plant his shot beyond the helplessly abandoned Cech.
Sturridge later made it four with a close-range header.
** Tottenham’s Wembley jinx continues after they conceded a late equaliser and thus a 1:1 draw against Burnley after having lost the previous weekend in their temporary home to Chelsea. Harry Kane thus remains without ever scoring a Premier goal in August.