Overmatched and out of ideas in early November at the Emirates, Liverpool looked set once again for an uphill climb against Arsenal on Saturday. The league leaders weren't at full strength, missing each of Mathieu Flamini (as they did in the reverse fixture), Theo Walcott, and Aaron Ramsey, but they were dominant when the two sides met earlier in the season, and with a lineup that looked set to dominate the midfield once again, nerves for the home side were completely justified.
And then, as we've become accustomed to witnessing this season in big matches, Liverpool completely blew the doors off, scoring four times in the opening twenty minutes to absolutely lay Arsenal bare. Comprehensive in their dominance, the hosts rarely let their visitors linger on the ball, and by the time Daniel Sturridge latched onto Philippe Coutinho's perfectly-weighted through ball and curled around Wojiech Szczesny, it was clear there would only be one winner on the day.
The early goals unquestionably altered what would have otherwise been an interesting matchup, but they also provided a chance to see a Liverpool side that are increasingly ruthless--especially at Anfield, where they've become terrifying when they hit their stride--after they take a lead. The execution is down to the personnel, of course, but the setup has been nearly pitch-perfect every time Liverpool have faced opposition near the top of the table, and much of the credit for that is down to the man in charge.
Today that entailed a slight shift up front, a change that Brendan Rodgers felt would give Liverpool control whether or not they took an early lead:
"Today, we were against a team that are very experienced and have led the league for a large part of the season. We shifted it about tactically. We played Daniel Sturridge through the middle to try to exploit his speed centrally. Luis Suarez played in a wider role today and put in a selfless job. We switched Raheem Sterling over to the left side to penetrate and to control Sagna a little bit. Overall, the players were tactically brilliant and you saw their appetite and hunger for the game. That was important for us.
"We were brilliant today, a wonderful performance in such a prestigious game between the two teams. We do a lot of work on our pressing. I always feel if we press well, we can pass well. To play like that, not just the result, but the performance level was absolutely out of this world. I'm very pleased and it's another marker for us that we're getting better and improving all the time."
After a somewhat shaky, insecure start to his Liverpool tenure, we're now getting a more confident and self-assured Brendan Rodgers; the platitudes and camera-speak at the start of last season never quite rang true, but as spring approached--which coincided with a leap in Liverpool's form--the manager settled in, and it now looks as though he and the club are better for it.
Video by ShowMeTheFootball