Belfast Telegraph

Arsenal are torn apart by a Liverpool whirlwind

Liverpool 4 Arsenal

By Mark Critchley

Ahead of the opening weekend, these two sides were tipped by most pundits to be the lesser members of the Premier League’s established ‘top six’.

That may well  still prove to be the case come the end of this long season, but with this 4-0 rout, Liverpool showed why Arsenal must be considered the runt of the litter.

On this display, Arsene Wenger’s side should not even feel assured of their place among that leading pack.Their supporters have put up with many displays as insipid as this in recent years, but here, against a side which shares similar hopes for the season ahead, the gap in quality felt wide and significant.

This was once a fixture that Liverpool supporters would look at and fear, but for the first time in years, it was treated was a sense of expectation on Merseyside. There was a confidence around Anfield from the off and once Roberto Firmino opened the scoring early, that belief that a comfortable victory was coming never wavered. Strikes from Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Daniel Strurridge gave the hosts a result befitting of their dominant  display.

Wenger had welcomed Alexis Sanchez back into the fold but his best player was anonymous and ended up in tears on the substitutes’ bench. The few moments of danger Arsenal did fashion came from applying the slightest pressure to a nervy Loris Karius, making his first competitive appearance in Liverpool’s goal since January. Simon Mignolet was left out of the match day squad, “rested” according to official accounts, but quite why four games in a fortnight stopped him from taking a place on the bench was unclear.

Four days on from the devastating display that sealed a return to the Champions League, Liverpool picked up from where they left off. Finding space down the left, Emre Can delivered a teasing, low cross that bamboozled Arsenal’s backline. Salah was on the same wavelength as his team-mate and free to receive at the far post, but the Egyptian’s close-range effort was blocked by Petr Cech.

Just 10 minutes on the clock, Liverpool should have already been ahead. When the opener eventually came it was more prosaic, but also offered a reminder of Liverpool’s versatility in this Liverpool attack. After Can sent full-back Joe Gomez in behind, the youngster’s cross was intelligently left by Salah and met by Firmino, who headed  placed a header into the ground so that the bounce would carry  the ball past a stretching  Cech. A simple goal that suggested that more opportunities would follow.

Jordan Henderson should have doubled their lead minutes later when he robbed a napping Mesut Ozil, but  in the final third, but a one-two with Firmino sent him wide and  his effort dribbled across goal.

Arsenal began to enjoy more of the ball in Liverpool’s half, and there was a sense that, for all the hosts’ dominance, one individual error could cost them. A second goal was needed and Mane found it five minutes before the break, cutting in from the left to send the ball careering round Cech’s outstretched palm.

The goal stemmed from a smart interception by Gomez in his own penalty area and a quick counter, but it  was more  notable for the shoddiness of Arsenal’s defending than Liverpool’s incisiveness. Like in the defeat at Stoke City last week, Wenger’s backline was awkward when asked to stand up one-on-one  and applied no pressure to their onrushing opponents, instead just waiting for the inevitable to pass.

Only a monumental turnaround, both on the scoreboard and in team spirit, would change the game, but Arsenal never looked likely to produce one. Salah spurned another opportunity after the restart but made no mistake a few minutes later, adding a third that only embarrassed Arsenal further.

After Lovren’s clearance of an Arsenal corner, Bellerin failed to take the loose ball cleanly and had Salah on top of him in a flash. One nick on the ball and the winger was away, outpacing the blue shirts behind him and this time, one-on-one with Cech, he held his nerve. Sanchez sat on his haunches, his head in hands. Many in the away end wore a similar expression.

The fourth and final blow followed in the closing stages, but by then Arsenal’s heads had dropped some time ago. Again the excellent Can carried the ball through midfield unopposed. He found Salah on the left and the Egyptian, a winger known more for countering than his crossing ability, sent a sublime, arching ball to the back post and Sturridge nodded home. Liverpool’s emphatic win was confirmed, while Arsenal were left asking the same old questions.

Liverpool: Karius, Gomez, Matip, Lovren, Moreno, Wijnaldum, Henderson, Can (Grujic, 83 mins), Mane (Sturridge, 74 mins), Firmino (Milner, 80 mins), Salah. Unused subs: Ward, Alexander-Arnold, Klavan, Solanke

Arsenal: Cech, Holding, Koscielny, Monreal, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Lacazette, 62 mins), Xhaka, Ramsey (Coquelin, 46 mins), Bellerin, Sanchez (Giroud, 62 mins), Welbeck, Ozil. Unused subs: Ospina, Mustafi, Kolasinac, Walcott

Referee: Craig Pawson

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