Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers denied that a week of off-field distractions took their toll as his side crashed to a 4-1 defeat at Arsenal.
The build-up to a match crucial in the race for Champions League places was dominated by speculation regarding the future of Raheem Sterling following his contract stand-off with the club, and Liverpool were blown away as Arsenal scored three times in nine minutes before half-time to take complete control.
Sterling won a second-half penalty, converted by Jordan Henderson, but Arsenal had the final word in a convincing display from the hosts.
Asked if the Sterling situation had played a role, Rodgers told BT Sport, “No, not really. I thought Raheem was outstanding today, in fairness the kid’s done great today.
“It’s not distractions, we were just poor defensively. You see from our record the last six games we haven’t conceded away from home. It’s just a disappointing day when you concede bad goals, you’re always going to be up against it against a team that’s obviously got good confidence.”
Liverpool’s misery was compounded by a late red card for Emre Can, adding to their defensive woes, but Rodgers felt his player had been unlucky to get a second yellow card for what appeared to be a scissor challenge, with his manager saying he had slipped.
“In all fairness, he’s not that type of player,” Rodgers said. “It’s a wonderful surface here, but it’s actually quite greasy, quite slippy with the way they water it. He’s tried to reach around the back with the right foot but then slips with his left and then it looks like a scissor challenge, but I know him well enough to know he’s not like that.”
While Rodgers was left to acknowledge it will now be “very, very difficult” to get back into the top four, his opposite number Arsene Wenger can look up with his side going second ahead of Manchester City‘s trip to Crystal Palace on Monday.
“It was a very great day,” Wenger said. “It was an important game today. We had the chance to make a difference with Liverpool and we took the chance.”
Hector Bellerin stunned Liverpool when he cut inside to open the scoring in the 36th minute, swiftly followed by Mesut Ozil’s free-kick and Alexis Sanchez’s strike, with Olivier Giroud capping the afternoon late on.
“It was a first half of quality on both sides,” Wenger said. “I must say Liverpool played well, it was start with big intensity. Their keeper kept them in the game and then they had a good chance before we scored but we were focused, clinical, and I think if you look at the table and see the number of goals we score it’s no coincidence.”