Liverpool do love to thrash Arsenal, don’t they?
Coming back from an early setback, yet another 5-1 win at Anfield ensured the Reds will end 2018 in the best possible way, stretching the lead at the top of the table to nine points.
A sluggish start saw a series of wayward passes at the back, with Dejan Lovren needlessly surrendering possession in a dangerous area. Maitland Niles was on hand to slot in from close range after just eleven minutes, marking the first time Liverpool had fallen behind in over a year.
Yet, it represented the perfect wakeup call for Klopp’s side rather than a sign of panic, with Roberto Firmino’s quickfire double just three minutes later restoring parity at Anfield. Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah would each get on the scoresheet before the first-half whistle in a performance marked by strength and resilience.
Liverpool soared to extra heights in the second half, sending the latest statement of intent to their rivals before a crunch tie at the Etihad. Here are the observations from the match.
Mr Bobby Dazzler
It’s hardly been vintage Firmino this season, with the Brazilian often little more than a peripheral figure, suffering from a positional change that’s seen him drop deeper.
This was a return to the Bobby of old though, dazzling his way in and around the Arsenal defence to bag his first ever hattrick for the club. The first came in pretty fortuitous circumstances, with Salah’s pass ricocheting to his feet and providing the perfect opportunity for another no-look goal.
Just ninety seconds later and the Brazilian had his second. A goal of sheer class, the 27-year-old made a mockery of Sokratis and Mustafi, dancing his way through before calmly slotting into the right-hand corner on his weaker foot.
His two goals meant only Salah and Kane have scored more ‘big six’ goals than he has since the start of last season – only Salah if you don’t count penalties.
Capping off a first hattrick with the club, Firmino benefitted from Mohamed Salah’s selflessness, taking and converting the second penalty of the game to round off a stellar performance. Firmino is now the highest scoring Brazilian player in the Premier League (43) – two higher than former Red, Philippe Coutinho.
Gini Wijnaldum bosses the midfield
Firmino may have walked off the Anfield turf showcasing the match ball but anyone watching will have been aware of the individual brilliance on show from Gini Wijnaldum. Often fading into the background, failing to gain the headlines that his performances have deserved, the former-Newcastle man has undergone a huge upturn in his form, consistently impressing home and away.
Make no mistake, this was a performance of the highest order, with the 28-year-old oozing control in the midfield, quick to jump into the tackle and set the team up on the attack. Tremendous energy up and down the pitch made it a nightmare afternoon for Arsenal while showing just how valuable Wijnaldum has become to this team.
2018: A record-breaking year
It’s been a hell of a year for Liverpool, with Jurgen Klopp continuing to adapt and enhance his team, priming them for a surge to the title in the New Year. The Reds have taken 88 points from 37 league games in 2018 – their best ever points per game ratio in a calendar year in their history.
A more pragmatic approach has sparked new life into a previously frenetic and unpredictable squad. Where 2-0 or 3-0 scorelines often looked precarious and susceptible to individual errors, this team now looks impenetrable. You need not look further than a stunning defensive record this season; conceding eight goals is the fewest conceded after 20 games of a league campaign, one less than the nine shipped in 1978-79.