Remarkably, Arsenal actually took the lead when Ainsley Maitland-Niles converted against the run of play. But Roberto Firmino quickly equalised, adding a second in speculative fashion just moments later.
Sadio Mane then got in on the act shortly after the half-hour mark, before Mohamed Salah scored his 13th goal of the Premier League season. Firmino completed his hat-trick from the spot in the second-half to make it five.
Liverpool’s victory means they remain undefeated in the league this season and enter 2019 with a commanding league at the top of the table.
Here are five things we learned.
Liverpool will win the Premier League title
Best case scenario for Liverpool heading into 2019: they have a nine point lead at the top of the Premier League. Worst case: they sit pretty by seven points. Either way – they are now the overwhelming favourites to win the league title.
After Tottenham’s characteristic collapse against Wolves earlier in the day, the pressure was on Liverpool. This was a true acid test of their title credentials. And they passed with flying colours, 4-1 up at half-time with the three points already safely in their pocket.
They have been the best team in the country since the opening weekend of the season. Barring an injury crisis – or historic collapse of confidence – they will have too much for the chasing Manchester City. Avoid defeat in their showdown at the Etihad next week and they will already have one hand on the trophy.
Arsenal’s defence is not fit for purpose
If Arsenal are really serious about reclaiming their place in the top four, and catching up with north London rivals Tottenham, they need a new defence. It’s that simple.
Shkodran Mustafi will likely make his 100th Premier League appearance in January – but he is clearly not good enough, regardless of who he is paired alongside in Arsenal’s defence. The club’s other recent big money defensive arrival, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, is also struggling. Why did he repeatedly nibble at Salah in his own penalty area to concede the spot kick? And at 30-years-old, can that really be coached out of his game?
Arsenal’s wafer-thin defence cost them this game. Emery is a manager, not a miracle worker. If he is not backed to overhaul his backline then Arsenal will continue to flounder.
Salah as important as ever…
Make no mistake about it: Mohamed Salah is no one season wonder.
His goal against Liverpool was his 13th of the season – taking him level with Premier League joint top goalscorers Pierre-Emerick Auabmeyang and Harry Kane. Factor in Salah's seven assists and the Egyptian is the first player this season to be directly involved in 20 goals.
He is still so important to Liverpool’s attack, even when he is not directly involved. Just his mere presence frees up space for Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, both of whom are flying this season.
… and he didn’t dive
Not this time.
Salah was quite correctly pilloried for dropping to the turf so theatrically against Newcastle but, this time, there was absolutely no doubt about the penalty decision.
It was soft, sure, but Sokratis had more than one nibble at Salah, with his right boot nowhere near to winning the ball. Waiting for a challenge is not the same as simulating one and Salah did well to win and convert the penalty. He deserves no criticism this time.
One last thing…
Mesut Ozil was ruled out of this evening’s match because of a knee injury sustained in the draw with Brighton on Boxing Day – and not because of “tactical reasons”.
Without him, Arsenal were utterly toothless in possession and tepid at the back.
When Ozil is named in Arsenal’s starting XI, and the team drop points, he invariably attracts a lion’s share of the blame. Perhaps this utterly damning result proves that he is not the root of all of Arsenal’s problems after all? Perhaps it proves he is a help and not a hindrance, and should be treated accordingly?
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