A vintage Liverpool display under the floodlights at Anfield sent them seven points clear atop the Premier League table as they romped to a 5-1 demolition of Arsenal.
After a frenetic start it was Arsenal that took the lead when a Liverpool giveaway saw Alex Iwobi break and feed a superb ball across the six-yard box for Ainsley Maintland-Niles to slide home his first ever Arsenal goal.
The visitors’ advantage did not last long however, as Roberto Firmino profited from a fortuitous deflection in the penalty area to tap home into an empty net just three minutes after the Reds had gone behind.
If his first was fortunate, then his second just two minutes later was sublime as the Brazilian picked up the ball and danced his way through the Arsenal defence before finishing into the bottom right corner past Bernd Leno.
As the game began to settle the home side took control of possession and set the tempo of the match, and just past the half hour mark Sadio Mane opened up a two goal cushion when he diverted Mohamed Salah’s deft cut-back into the top corner, after Andrew Robertson’s initial cross field ball.
Salah added the fourth himself just before the break when a scintillating long pass from Alisson helped his side spring a counter attack, which culminated in the Egyptian no.11 winning a penalty from Sokratis Papastathopoulos and dusting himself off to power it into the net.
Liverpool took a justifiably more pragmatic approach in the second half as they looked to keep Arsenal at arms length, but there was still time to add a fifth as Firmino completed his first ever hat-trick in Liverpool red when he converted from a penalty of his own, rounding off a perfect night for his team.
Defence hinders Arsenal again
Failure to clear their lines, reluctance to close down the player on the ball, lackadaisical positioning and clumsy challenges in the box underpinned the Gunners’ defensive showing and was a major part of the reason why they were so resoundingly beaten, especially considering the fact they had the lead in this game.
Sokratis and Shkodran Mustafi were at sixes and sevens at time when trying to halt Liverpool’s advances, whilst Sead Kolasinac and Stephan Lichsteiner were far from their best as Salah and Mane overpowered them in the wide areas.
Defence does start from the top and requires contributions from the forwards and midfielders to work as a whole, and said contributions from the other areas of the pitch were found wanting for Unai Emery’s side as he watched his side be cut to pieces, particularly in the first half.
Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira had evenings to forget, whilst even the more advances players such as Aaron Ramsey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang failed to significantly press Liverpool’s defensive players on the ball, allowing the likes of Fabinho to run through midfield and have time to pick out a pass.
As the Gunners look to return to the Champions League and the Premier League title conversation in this post-Wenger era, one thing that Emery will need to take time to sort out is their defence, which is currently better than just Manchester United’s and Bournemouth’s in the top 15 of the table.
Electric Reds at it again
Another five goals scored for the Reds, and suddenly their goal difference has surpassed what was seen as the insurmountable total that Manchester City were beginning to amass in the early parts of the season.
Undefeated through 20 games, Jurgen Klopp’s men are showing no signs of slowing down, and with performances such as this against a top six club, there is good reason for the excitement to continue to grow on the Kop.
Salah is now up to 13 goals and seven assists in the league, while Mane and Firmino took their respective goal tallies up to eight and seven strikes to further stamp their authority on the English game.
Eight wins in eight games in December- with seven in the league and one in the Champions League- have helped Liverpool make a breakaway from their title rivals as Manchester City and Tottenham have faltered in recent weeks.
With their defence proving to be so resolute this season, if they can continue to pour goals in the opposition net each week, the will be almost impossible to stop.
Is the drought about to end?
In the last 10 years, every team that has been top of the table at Christmas has gone on to lift the trophy, except for two occasions in 2008 and 2013, both of which saw Liverpool manage only a second placed finish at the end of each season.
However, this time it is different. This is a Liverpool team like no other from the last century, and they look like a team that has the makings of champions.
Klopp has instilled belief in the entire club, from the fans to the players, and he has engineered such a meteoric rise in fortunes that it feels like now is the time for the Reds in their search for that illusive first Premier League crown.
With this match against Arsenal and the one to come in midweek at the Etihad against City, Liverpool are arguably in their most important week ever in the Premier League era, as a positive result in Manchester could well set them on the way to a coronation in the latter weeks of the season.
Speaking of the Sky Blues, it would be foolish to discount them. With Pep Guardiola at the helm and their sensational squad, they will continue to win football games and score goals, just as Spurs will with their dynamic style of play under Mauricio Pochettino.
Half of the Premier League season is still to be played and anything can happen as Klopp looks to guide himself and his playing group into the pages of Anfield history come May 2019.