Liverpool 4 Firmino 17’, Mané 40’, Salah 57’, Sturridge 77’
It won’t be for the last time this season that Liverpool will follow up a challenging European tie midweek with a tough fixture in the league on the weekend, but if Jürgen Klopp’s crew can consistently repeat what they accomplished this week, supporters will have few complaints. The Reds made a statement against Hoffenheim on Wednesday, and delivered another emphatic one at Anfield today against an Arsenal side that was unable to summon any kind of response.
For Arsène Wenger, this was a missed opportunity to close the gap on a not-quite-full-strength Liverpool side. Instead, Arsenal’s performance here will be fodder for the growing number of discontented voices who have made Wenger the focus of their ire. Liverpool were without Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho, or Trent Alexander-Arnold, and also unexpectedly started Loris Karius over Simon Mignolet. They still strolled to a comfortable victory.
From the opening whistle, it was clear that Arsenal, to their credit, were not here to sit back and soak up pressure. Whether that course of action was ill-advised, given what happened to Hoffenheim a few days prior, remained to be seen, but that made for an open early phase. Emre Can and Mohamed Salah showed hints of a promising partnership for Liverpool, while Alexis Sánchez and Danny Welbeck provided the foundation for Arsenal to advance at pace.
Both back lines looked somewhat beatable, but the first chance of the day fell to Liverpool, and it was a golden one. In the 10th minute, some intricate work on the left set up a great cross, and Salah, who had ghosted past Bellerin, was faced with the goal at his mercy, but Petr Cech did extremely well to parry. Somehow, the ball ping-ponged away from his goal, together with any further threat.
Arsenal failed to heed the warning signs. Pouncing on slack possession, Liverpool pushed the ball out to Gomez on the right, who was afforded a criminal amount of space and time by his opponents. The young defender placed an excellent cross right on the head of Firmino, who had nobody near him, and the Brazilian made no mistake directing his header downward past a flailing Cech.
Stunned, Arsenal pulled themselves together after going behind, but the forward trio of Özil, Sánchez, and Welbeck struggled to create anything fluent with Ramsey and Xhaka. There were questions before the match began as to why Arsenal’s record signing Lacazette was languishing on the bench, and those questions resurfaced during the first half. While promising early, Welbeck faded quickly despite Liverpool’s back line creaking dangerously at times.
As halftime approached, play was beginning to be increasingly concentrated in Arsenal’s half. On the few occasions where Arsenal looked like they might spring a quick counter, the trio of Can, Gini Wijnaldum, and Jordan Henderson acted quickly to smother and disrupt. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was effective. When Liverpool’s midfield had the ball, Ramsey and Xhaka were continually on the back foot, with the former enduring serial humiliation whenever matched against Wijnaldum.
Liverpool doubled their advantage just before the half. Just when Arsenal were threatening, a key interception by Liverpool’s defence teed up a break. With lightning quickness, Can found Firmino, who in turn found Mané in space on the left. The man tasked with keeping Mané in check, Rob Holding, failed to live up to his name, and could only watch as he Senegalese forward cut inside and unleashed a beautiful effort into the far corner.
After the interval, Wenger sought to place a few more roadblocks in Liverpool’s way by replacing an ineffective Ramsey with Francis Coquelin, and setting up in a 4-2-3-1 to at least try to challenge Liverpool in midfield. For a while, Arsenal looked noticeably more fluid and Liverpool had to do a little more chasing, but one sensed that the Gunners would still be dreadfully exposed on the flanks.
And so it was that the third Liverpool goal came from one of the Reds’ wide men. Minutes after Salah had stolen the ball and hurtled towards goal, only to have his shot defused by Cech, the Egyptian winger was allowed to run free again in comical fashion. An Arsenal corner was cleared, but Bellerin botched his attempt to collect and reload, allowing Salah to knick the ball past him. With the visitors gasping in his wake, Salah made no mistake on this attempt. The third goal effectively ended the contest.
With just over a quarter of an hour remaining, Mané walked off to warm applause and was replaced by Daniel Sturridge - not exactly a great state of affairs if you were an Arsenal defender. Within minutes, the substitute recorded Liverpool’s fourth of the day. Wriggling out of trouble in his own half, Firmino teed up Can - who alongside a ubiquitous Henderson had put in a superlative performance - and the German midfielder found Salah racing forward on the left. This time, it was precision rather than pace, as the cross eluded Cech to allow Sturridge to head home without fuss.
Can clearly wanted to cap off his excellent afternoon with a goal of his own, and nearly found one at the end of another thundering foray, but Arsenal closed him down in numbers. With the match petering towards a foregone conclusion, Klopp brought on James Milner for Firmino and then Marko Grujić for Can, but the air had long since been let out of this Arsenal side. Ten shots on goal for Liverpool against none/zero/nil for Arsenal amazingly doesn’t tell the full story of this match.