An unreal performance saw Liverpool comprehensively grind Arsenal in to the dirt, taking the visiting first-place club and making them look like relegation fodder. This was the best we've seen Liverpool play this season, and frankly was the best all-round performance we've seen from the club in recent memory. It was the type of match you want to see from a title contender, and Liverpool are now in a position to become just that.
Liverpool 5 Skrtel 1', 10'; Sterling 16', 52'; Sturridge 20'
Arsenal 1 Arteta 69' (pen)
To say that Liverpool got off to a flying and domineering start is to experiment in the most extreme of understatement. They came out firing, winning a quick free kick in a dangerous area in the first minute of play. Some thought Luis Suarez would try to shoot from the position, near the left touchline about ten yards past the box. Steven Gerrard lined up over it instead, and as we've become accustomed to seeing again this season, he put in fantastic service, dropping the ball in just behind the line Arsenal set up for Martin Skrtel to power home past a helpless Wojciech Szczęsny.
Liverpool needed to get an early goal, and they did just that. Fortunately, they didn't settle for one. Liverpool stayed firmly on the front foot, pressing like maniacs and pushing Arsenal's defense. On a corner earned by a lovely bit of interplay between Daniel Sturridge and John Flanagan in the 9th minute, Skrtel again got free and found another piece of lovely Gerrard service, heading in to the top corner in a tiny window left by Szczęsny's attempt to save and Nacho Monreal jumping at the post to try and block it.
Daniel Sturridge had a valiant effort to get his name on the scoresheet, getting one-on-one with the keeper after Suarez set him loose with a low ball across the top of the box, but his attempt at yet another lobbed goal was pushed just wide. He'd have a hand in another goal just a few minutes later, though; Jordan Henderson carried the ball the forward from midfield off a Mesut Özil giveaway, and put the ball in to Suarez along the right side of the box. The Uruguayan fired a low ball across the face of goal on to the sprinting pair of Sturridge and Raheem Sterling; Szczęsny had to guess which player the ball would find, and he guessed Sturridge, but Sterling is the one who latched on to it and he finished cleanly to put Liverpool up 3-0.
Sturridge would get his, though, as another midfield turnover generated by Coutinho and quick pass up the field would see him moving easily past Laurent Koscielny with the ball at his feet. He fired off a bullet from outside the box that Szczęsny was utterly helpless against, and Liverpool were off to a dream 4-0 start after just 20 minutes. Even the most optimistic of Liverpool fans never saw this kind of domination coming before the match, and even the players seemed a little shocked that things were going so well. If anything, the 4-0 scoreline at half time was a slight disappointment, as it very easily could have been 7-0 at the break.
It wasn't even just that Liverpool were up big on Arsenal, it was how. Just a few months ago, an overconfident Liverpool side got utterly ripped to shreds against Arsenal, and the 2-0 final scoreline was actually fairly kind. This time, they came out with a cohesive, well-prepared gameplan, and executed it to perfection.
Their pressing was incredibly effective, forcing turnover after turnover and still managing to keep Arsenal off-balance even after the pace slowed up a bit after the fourth goal. Every time Liverpool had the ball, they looked to get up the field and threaten Arsenal's goal. In defense, they choked off passing lanes and did their best to keep the ball away from Arsenal's dangerous attacking midfield band. If you were to draw up the perfect way to beat a squad like Arsenal's, this was the way to do it.
Credit to the Gunners, they came out of the break firing, but it was Liverpool that would strike first. Sterling collected a lovely deep ball along the left side of Arsenal's box, drove in, and fired low at Szczęsny. The Polish keeper could only parry the ball, not control it, and the rebound came straight back to Raheem, who made no mistakes on his follow-up shot to earn himself a brace.
Suarez, Coutinho, and Sturridge would all have chances, but sadly it would be Arsenal who scored next. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was driving down the left side of the box, and Steven Gerrard bizarrely came out of nowhere and tackled the English winger, missing the ball and getting Ox's ankles instead. The ref quickly and correctly pointed to the spot, and Mikel Arteta easily converted to break the clean sheet.
Brendan Rodgers would bring off Gerrard not long after, giving him the opportunity to receive cheers from the Kop, who delivered wonderfully on their end of the bargain. There was a bit of a poignant moment as Gerrard passed the armband to Suarez, a bit of a continuation from the striker carrying the responsibility when Gerrard was out injured earlier in the season. Suarez had had a good match until then, but he really stepped his game up at that point, quickly causing several bits of danger. When Suarez came off late in the match, the armband would go to Skrtel in no small part as a nod to his Man of the Match quality performance.
Several players deserve praise for their performances today. Skrtel obviously had the opening brace, but he and Kolo Toure were virtually impenetrable at the back. John Flanagan continued his tremendous run of form with possibly his best match in a Liverpool shirt. Philippe Coutinho was incredible, pressing effectively, and slicing Arsenal's midfield apart with his passing. Jordan Henderson, his usual shaky finishing aside, was tremendous, harrying Arsenal players all over the pitch and coming up with huge moments in all phases of the match. Aly Cissokho only fell over twice today.
Of course, so much credit belongs to Brendan Rodgers today. Very few really thought that he would beat Arsenal, and certainly no one thought that they'd win in such commanding fashion. Arsenal are a club used to asserting their game in to any match they play no matter the opponent, but Rodgers so utterly out-matched Arsene Wenger that the Gunners never really got in to the match. They had some half-chances late on, but even then that looked to have more to do with Liverpool backing off a bit and playing it safe than Arsenal really growing in to the match.
Liverpool now find themselves just five points off first place, though it'll likely be six once Chelsea and Manchester City have played their matches. If Liverpool can properly grasp on to the momentum that a match like this can give them, they could put some real pressure on the clubs ahead of them in the table before too long. Buckle in, boys and girls. We're off for one hell of a ride down the stretch.