Liverpool put last week’s frustrations against West Brom behind them with a fantastic 5-1 win over title chasing Arsenal.
Liverpool stunned the visitors, who began the match top of the league, with four goals in the opening 20 minutes. Martin Skrtel finished two Steven Gerrard set pieces in the opening ten minutes – with his first coming inside the opening minute, and these were followed by finishes from Raheem Sterling & Daniel Sturridge, and at that stage it could have been more than 4-0. Sterling added another before Mikel Arteta’s penalty put Arsenal on the scoresheet.
It was a fantastic win and a great performance to boot. Liverpool pressed Arsenal in all areas of the pitch, not giving them time to settle on the ball, and attacked with pace. Liverpool looked like they would give Arsenal problems every time they attacked, particularly in the first half. That was Brendan Rodgers’ game plan and it worked perfectly.
Rodgers got Liverpool’s tactics spot on. He played a 4-3-3 with Luis Suarez on the flank to harness Sturridge’s pace against Per Mertesacker, and it worked a treat. Liverpool’s front three posed problems for Arsenal all day.
Liverpool’s pressing restricted Arsenal’s time on the ball. So much so, that goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was a virtual spectator in the first half as Arsenal created next to nothing in the first half. Mignolet made a couple of very good saves as Arsenal made more of a fist of the game in the second half.
Jon Flanagan played very well again. He’s come on leaps and bounds since returning to the team. He pressed and tackled fantastically yesterday, and was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet before the second goal. Nevertheless, his place in the starting 11 is a reward for the patience he has displayed while he was on the fringes during the first year of Rodgers’ reign.
Skrtel scored Liverpool’s first two goals and was superb in defence, as were the whole team. Skrtel is one of the first names on Liverpool’s teamsheet now, and last summer I didn’t think I would say that. Skrtel was Liverpool’s player of the year in 2011-12, but in the latter stages of last campaign, was out of favour with Rodgers and it looked like he was on his way out in the summer. But he stuck at it, and started in that memorable 1-0 win over Manchester United in September and has been in the team ever since. The questions that arise now is, who should partner Skrtel in the centre of Liverpool’s defence.
Kolo Toure, playing against his former club, also did well; he even had the chance to get on the scoresheet but put the ball wide with the entire goal to aim at after Suarez hit the bar with a great shot. Nevertheless, he defended well against Olivier Giroud and sent the ball over that led to Sterling’s second goal that caught out the Arsenal defence leaving Sterling with an opportunity that he took, albeit at the second time of asking.
Aly Cissokho gave his all yesterday too, which was pleasing to see. The on-loan left back has attracted some stick, but he has improved recently particularly going forward and was defensively solid.
Despite conceding the penalty that Arsenal scored from, Steven Gerrard did well yesterday, with his deliveries from set pieces causing Arsenal problems, particularly for Srktel’s goals. I wasn’t sure about Gerrard playing deeper in midfield, but he has done very well there. Gerrard sits in front of the back four, giving the defenders someone to give the ball to, allowing Gerrard to pick a pass.
Jordan Henderson put in another excellent shift for Liverpool, putting in fantastic work rate as usual. Henderson left compatriot Jack Wilshere in his shadow yesterday, and is thoroughly deserving of his place. Henderson was in-and-out of the side in Rodgers’ first season, but returned to the team last March, and hasn’t looked back. He had Mesut Ozil in his pocket. Henderson played a role in the third goal, winning possession of the anonymous Ozil and charging towards the box, playing the ball to Suarez who squared it to Sterling.
Ozil could take a leaf out of Philippe Coutinho’s book. Coutinho’s vision and passing was immense yesterday, setting up the fourth goal scored by Sturridge and putting Henderson in on goal in the second half. Coutinho and Ozil are seen as similar players, but the difference between the two was that Coutinho was willing to do the “dirty” work.
Raheem Sterling was immense yesterday, scoring two goals and could have had a hat-trick. Sterling did well in the first half of Rodgers’ first season, but found himself frozen out of the squad. Sterling was brought back into the starting 11 in December and has remained in the line-up ever since. Sterling looks stronger, and is now more confident to run at defenders, and there’s more tracking back in his game now.
Daniel Sturridge played through the middle, hoping it would cause Mertesacker some problems and it worked. He scored in the sixth successive game since he returned from injury, and is now second in the goalscoring charts with Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero. Sturridge came to Liverpool a year ago with a lot of question marks about his attitude, but Rodgers has shown great man management to develop Sturridge, as well as utilising this man management to some other members of Liverpool’s squad.
Luis Suarez didn’t score, but he came close to on two occasions. The first came in that rampant first half, where he hit a rasping shot against the bar, before a free kick in the second half that nearly caught Wojciech Szczesny out. He showed the tenacity he usually displays despite being played out on the wing.
Liverpool could afford to tail off in the second half with another 3 points in the bag. It even allowed for Sturridge, Gerrard and Suarez to come off and earn some rest and give some minutes to other members in Liverpool’s squad.
Joe Allen came on for Sturridge. Many thought that the Welshman would have started to provide control in midfield, but he came on and kept the ball well and did what was asked. Young Jordon Ibe came on for Gerrard and put in an impressive cameo with some decent touches of the ball. Iago Aspas came on for Suarez for the final 5 minutes and got into some decent positions.
That might have been the best performance Liverpool have produced since Brendan Rodgers took charge in 2012. Liverpool’s play under Rodgers has looked very pleasing on the eye, and the pressing when Arsenal were in possession was also impressive. Rodgers has also done well this season to improve Liverpool’s home record: Liverpool have won 11 out of their 13 home games in the Premier League this season.
That has given Liverpool’s Champions League chances a real boost. The key for Liverpool now as they enter the last stretch of the season is to improve their consistency and replicate these types of performances in their away games, starting with the trip to Fulham on Wednesday. The main aim at the start of the season was to make a return to the Champions League (as well as try and win a domestic trophy), and with these performances and results Liverpool are giving themselves every chance of returning to the Champions League for the first time since 2009/10.