Jack Lusby reflects on Liverpool’s enthralling 5-1 victory over Arsenal on Saturday, and picks seven defining moments.
Having already shock the travelling fans with his first-minute goal, Martin Skrtel bettered this with an astonishing header on the 10th minute.
Skrtel’s influence throughout the game was immeasurable, as Liverpool’s only fit, defensive mainstay once again provided the spine with which to build the fast tempo attacking game with which the Reds have become so synonymous.
Prior to the tie, Brendan Rodgers was heavy with praise for the dominant Slovak:
“I have seen a marked difference in his performance level this season. He’s taken what we spoke about on to the training field every day and now he’s benefiting from it.”
This confidence showed, with Rodgers’ gleeful celebration: running up the touchline, arms aloft.
With many continuing to question the centre-back’s long-term prospects, perhaps this display will go some way to allay the fears of the most pessimistic of Reds.
Talked up by many before the game as the lynchpin to what would be a routine win for the league leaders, Arsenal’s Mesut Özil continued his descent into abysmal form with an absent display at Anfield.
Seemingly struggling in a combative league, the German playmaker was substituted on the hour.
Today, this signalled a doff of the hat from Arsene Wenger to one of Liverpool’s myriad success stories: Jon Flanagan.
Before the game, the FA Twitter account included Flanagan in a list of English stars to start:
Team news in at Anfield. England's, Gerrard, Henderson, Sterling, Sturridge, & Flanagan all start for home side, Wilshere starts for Arsenal
— The FA (@FA) February 8, 2014
Following another impressive display, it could surely be argued that Flanagan should be in Roy Hodgson’s reckoning come Brazil 2014.
Following Özil’s exit, Flanagan successfully frustrated Santi Cazorla, leaving the game with £60m worth of talent in his back pocket.
With Glen Johnson soon to return to full training, the right-back will struggle to find a place in Rodgers’ side on form: Flanagan was, again, immense.
That Szczesny Look
For all his mercurial qualities, few would’ve expected Luis Suarez to curl his 62nd minute free-kick towards the top corner from such an audacious angle.
During a torrid day, Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny somehow managed to save the effort to leave the Uruguayan goalless on his substitution.
The abject look on the face of the Polish shot-stopper afterward said it all on a day when one of the league’s most rapidly developing ‘keepers could do little to quell the Liverpool tide.
To his credit, Szczesny was the first to hold his hands up after the game, apologising on his official Facebook account shortly after.
That Suarez left the pitch goalless was remarkable, particularly following the unstoppable 30-yard volley sent crashing into the Arsenal woodwork in the first half.
Superlatives can only go so far to describe the toothy striker, but today’s score-sheet does little to flatter another astounding performance.
Coutinho’s Run & Through-Ball
Coutinho, caught amidst several yellow shirts in his own half, produced another spark of the magic which makes the young Brazilian one of the most exciting young talents in the league.
Twisting away from two markers, and then past another, the 21-year-old administered every ounce of the natural ability gifted to him.
With another flick of the wand, Coutinho launched an outstanding through-ball into the path of the onrushing Jordan Henderson, leaving the Englishman with a clear chance on goal.
A majestic derby display, followed swiftly by an anonymous performance at West Brom, accurately presented the hot-and-cold nature of the playmaker.
In another central display, Coutinho proved there is much more to look forward to.
The grateful recipient of Coutinho’s sublime play, Jordan Henderson was unfortunate in sending a hopeful chip over Szczesny and wide of the post.
In different circumstances, such squandered opportunity would be scrutinised and criticised ad infinitum. However, with the Reds running rampant, Henderson’s show of audacity can be seen as a marker of the players’ growth.
Once a player supremely lacking in confidence, Henderson has grown to be one of the club’s most influential players this season.
The impudence of the chip was a measure of Liverpool’s swagger in their five-star showing, exerting the authority of true title trialists.
Sterling as Man of the Match
By far and away the outstanding performance amidst an impeccable team effort was the continued maturation of Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling.
Finishing the game with two goals, the 19-year-old could have helped himself to more. Unfortunately if criticism can be made it is that of Sterling’s finishing.
After dancing through the Arsenal defence once again, with five minutes on the clock, Sterling had a golden opportunity to seal the match ball but put his near-post effort to close to the sprawling Szczesny.
Nevertheless, this display capped a remarkable upturn in form for the winger in recent weeks, as Sterling ran Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny – arguably the league’s best defence – ragged.
Following the game Brendan Rodgers was quick to lavish praise on the World Cup hopeful:
“He’s just turned 19 years old and I don’t think there is a better winger in England, at this moment in time. He’s absolutely phenomenal.”
With Sterling growing increasingly as integral to the Reds’ attack as Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, perhaps it’s time to add another ‘S’ to the famous billing. SASAS?
Aly Cissokho’s Last-Minute Attempt
A final mention goes to Aly Cissokho’s dreadful cross-shot attempt in the dying minutes.
With Iago Aspas looking on in dismay, Cissokho – head up – delivered what would’ve been a perfect cross to the runner on the back post.
But there were no runners. The game was over and the fact that Cissokho was able to amble so blithely into the Arsenal box was indicative of an abominable display by the Gunners.
A 5-1 win against the league leaders is a clear signal of intent from Liverpool. Dare to dream?
Do you agree? Have we missed any moments out? Let us know in the comments below.