Three things learned: Liverpool v. Arsenal
Liverpool took another huge step towards winning their first-ever Premier League title on Saturday, as Jurgen Klopp’s men demolished Arsenal 5-1 at Anfield.
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Unai Emery’s Arsenal took the lead through Ainsley Maitland-Niles, but a quick double from Roberto Firmino and a goal each from Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah did the damage before half time, with Firmino completing his hat trick after the break.
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Here’s what we learned from a lopsided encounter at Anfield, as Liverpool extended their lead at the top of the table.
FIRMINO HAUNTS ARSENAL AGAIN
Roberto Firmino had been going through a bit of a barren stretch before facing Arsenal on Saturday, but the Brazilian once again destroyed the Gunners with ease. Firmino hadn’t scored in his last five games for the Reds, but he scored twice in 60 seconds in the first half to swing the game in Liverpool’s favor. He then completed his hat trick in the second half to make it 5-1.
Firmino’s direct running twice caught out Arsenal’s defense, as it hurried them into making a hash of the clearance for his first and then he ripped up their entire defensive unit for his majestic second.
Robbie Fowler is the only Liverpool player to have scored more than Firmino’s eight goals against Arsenal in the Premier League, and the livewire has now been involved in 11 goals (eight goals, three assists) in seven games against the Gunners.
He may not have been red hot in recent months, but Firmino turned up when Liverpool needed him most to start their rout. When he’s at his best, he brings out the best in Salah and Mane too. He may not get all of the credit he deserves, but Firmino is pivotal if Liverpool is going to win the title this season. The no-look finish on his first goal proved his trademark swagger is finally back and that is great news for Klopp.
ARSENAL’S RAGGED DEFENSE STILL THEIR BIGGEST PROBLEM
The Gunners have looked solid enough when they have their best defensive unit fit and available. But that wasn’t the case, once again, at Liverpool as a makeshift defense which included veteran Stephan Lichtsteiner and a banged up Shkodran Mustafi (replaced at half time by Laurent Koscielny) and Sokratis at center back. Can we judge this Arsenal team based on the defense they put out? We can, even though they have struggled against the big boys in recent years, and especially Liverpool’s jet-fuelled offense.
They’ve now won just one of their last 13 PL away games against teams starting the day top of the table, losing the last seven on the trot by an aggregate score of 3-22. And they’ve now lost their last six PL games at Liverpool, conceding at least twice on each occasion.
Even if this is an Arsenal defense missing Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal and Rob Holding, they should be able to not implode in the manner they did at Anfield. This theme cannot continue, especially away from the Emirates Stadium.
Having conceded three goals at Southampton, two at Manchester United and another at Brighton in their last three Premier League away games before visiting Anfield, Arsenal have now conceded 11 goals in their last four PL away games and picked up just two points in that run. Emery’s men were on a run of 22 games unbeaten in all competitions until two weeks ago, and a lot of that was down to a newfound defensive toughness.
That has evaporated as injuries have stacked up, but with Lucas Torreira struggling as their midfield terrier in front of the back four once again, Arsenal must plug the gaps which keep on appearing in their backline away from home. A porous defense away from home led to the eventual demise of Arsene Wenger last season and it threatens to derail the progress made by Emery early on this season too.
RAMPANT LIVERPOOL CONTINUE TITLE CHARGE
Liverpool have now won nine PL games on the spin and they’re unbeaten through their first 20 games. Heading into their clash at Manchester City on Jan. 3 (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) they are momentarily 10 points clear of City -- who play on Sunday against Southampton -- and Klopp’s side may well have the chance to all but end the challenge of their rivals with Tottenham (nine points back) slipping up this weekend too.
Who on earth can stop them? In truth, it is one team: themselves.
They are simply in imperious form. Unbeaten in 31 games at home, the last time Liverpool lost at Anfield was in April 2017. Klopp’s men have an air of confidence each time they walk out onto the pitch and they have the ability to rotate their squad with Fabinho, Xherdan Shaqiri coming in, and a wealth of options in midfield and attack. If injuries are kind to Liverpool, the strength in depth they have this season proves they can go all the way with Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne and Jordan Henderson coming off the bench against Arsenal, as the likes of Naby Keita and Daniel Sturridge watched on from the sidelines.
Klopp’s team are a well-oiled machine and although they will be focusing on one game at a time between now and May, they are surely now allowed to dream of winning the title. Everyone connected with Liverpool Football Club is in dreamland. But if City beat Southampton tomorrow and then beat Liverpool, the lead atop the table for Klopp’s men will be back to four points. Lot of ifs there, but given their long wait for another league title and previous heartbreaks, nobody connected with Liverpool will be allowing complacency to creep in.