Tunnel vision is what Jurgen Klopp has called for and that is what he is getting from his team. Swiping aside an Arsenal side that offered themselves for defensive sacrifice was the next step in Liverpool extending their lead at the top of the Premier League table. With Tottenham losing against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Klopp’s men took advantage of another slip up by a challenger with an emphatic win.
Having now won eight out of eight games in December, Liverpool’s next assignment is to travel to the reigning Premier League champions and that represents an opportunity to enhance their status as leaders. Realistically, however, Liverpool do not need to win the enticing encounter on Thursday and that in itself highlights their situation.
Emphatic win breeds more confidence
The feeling around Anfield is that Liverpool can now beat anyone; a lead of nine points having dropped only six points all season and conceding six goals highlights that. There is undoubtedly an aura but also a growing expectancy surrounding Liverpool, managing the next 18 games will be their true test. Potholes lie in the most unexpected of places, but currently Liverpool are showing the right movement to negotiate them.
Arsenal initially offered a brief obstacle but soon enough they were badly exposed both defensively and offensively. The visitors did go ahead but the roar that they then faced was too much for a shaky backline of Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Stephan Lichsteiner and also Pierre-Emerik Aubameyang who only managed 13 touches, 10 passes of which six were kickoffs.
Comebacks are rare to come by at Anfield, this was the first time that Liverpool had fallen behind at home in the league in almost a year. The defensive confidence and reassurance was combined with attacking flair that brought about goals for Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah to maximum efficiency.
Wijnaldum in midfield set the tempo
As has been the case, Liverpool’s midfield set the tempo. Georginio Wijnaldum put in a man of the match display winning the ball back with energy and recycling it effectively. Xherdan Shaqiri was intricate and imaginative with the ball on the right; if he can knit wool as well as he can knit football play then one member of the Shaqiri family will have received an impressive jumper this Christmas.
Arsenal’s confidence, which had already been effected by the raucous Anfield atmosphere, was badly damaged by Liverpool’s resurgence. Giving away two penalties, playing out from the back and remaining expansive even when three goals down, only helped Liverpool remain unbeaten.
These encounters are usually fantastic affairs, and that is down to both sticking to their approaches irrespective of how the match is developing. Once again that was the case here. Unai Emery demanded that his players take the ball off their goalkeeper and pass it forward and although it was brave, it also made for pretty nervy viewing. There was plenty of pressing and squeezing from both sides, but as has been the case of late, the ball often fell to Liverpool.
Arsenal early lead didn’t last for long
Every thing seems to be ticking for Klopp’s side, it all appears to be falling into place. However on 11 minutes there was a brief moment of melancholy. Arsenal pressed on the flanks, forcing Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson back. Alex Iwobi managed to turn the ball over and ran confidently down the left. His cross was met at the back post by Ainsley Maitland-Niles who slotted the ball past Alisson.
After a shaky start by the visitors, which featured Bernd Leno kicking the ball out of more or less every touchline, the lead was somewhat of a shock but it didn’t last long. The first of many error-strewn pieces of play laid the path for Liverpool to equalise a mere three minutes later.
This time Lichsteiner played a clearance against Mustafi and suddenly Firmino, who had started the move, was in. He once again showed his composure when one-on-one with a goalkeeper to level the score. Within two minutes, he had his second. Mane pinched the ball from Lucas Torreira in midfield who has been so impressive since joining from Sampdoria in the summer but struggled badly with the pace and strength of Liverpool.
Mane’s run sent Arsenal’s defence backpedalling with Firmino again bearing down on goal. More hesitant and awkward defending allowed the Brazilian to ease past and send Liverpool into the lead. The fact that no one looked like they were going to tackle him only made the Arsenal fans behind the goal wince that bit more.
Arsenal defensive frailties apparent throughout
Such is Liverpool’s confidence that they can afford to give Arsenal a head start and still go in at half time with a three-goal advantage. Conceding early was the kick-start that Liverpool needed to move through the gears and quickly. Arsenal were on the back foot and Emery’s ambition soon began to look like naivety.
The third goal came and whilst it originated from a more direct approach, it still showed Arsenal’s weaknesses at the back. Robertson received the ball on the halfway line following a weak corner, he sent the ball forward to Salah who passed first time to Mane and he in turn finished beautifully.
Then came the penalties – Liverpool had not scored a Premier League penalty at Anfield since November 2016 before Wednesday’s one against Newcastle, two more where given and scored here. The first was conceded by Sokratis, who ran into the back of Salah just before half time. Alisson had begun the move with a fine drop-kick which was expertly driven to Firmino. There where protests as the Egyptian went down but he stepped up and fired the spot kick straight, Leno got a hand to it but the power was too much.
It was game over at half time. This was supposedly the starter prior to Thursday evening’s main course but such was the dominance of Liverpool, it felt more like antipasti – Arsenal were too often sliced and served cold. The second penalty came midway through the second half. Sead Kolasinac pushed Dejan Lovren over at a corner-kick and this time Firmino was afforded the chance to score his hatrick goal of which he duly obliged.
Once again Klopp was afforded the luxury of making substitutes to preserve energy; Mane came off and Jordan Henderson entered to tighten the grip on midfield. The final 20 minutes or so were a mere choral practice for the Anfield crowd. It is the season to be jolly and Liverpool are certainly embracing that sentiment after a successful December. Whether that feeling continues for the next five months is yet to be seen, but it certainly looks promising.