Liverpool had to come from behind but blitzed Arsenal to move nine points clear at the top of the Premier League table on Saturday at Anfield.
Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal
Premier League, Anfield
December 29, 2018
Maitland-Niles 10′ (assist – Iwobi)
Mane 31′ (assist – Salah)
Salah 45′ (penalty)
Firmino 64′ (penalty)
Two days before New Year’s Eve, the Reds played their final game of 2018 against an Arsenal side who headed into the weekend fifth in the table and on a run of just two wins in their last five.
Unai Emery piled on the pressure for his side’s table-topping hosts in the buildup, suggesting Liverpool could maintain their unbeaten Premier League run for the entire campaign, referencing the Gunners’ ‘Invincible’ past.
But Jurgen Klopp has been eager to stress it remains one game at a time, the focus was on getting another three at Anfield, particularly in the wake of Tottenham‘s 3-1 loss to Wolves earlier in the day.
The manager made one change to the side that won 4-0 at home to Newcastle three days previous, with Fabinho coming in to replace Jordan Henderson.
With a difficult trip to Man City to come on January 3, the Reds needed to take all three points, and despite having to come from behind they showed their class and mentality to swat aside the challenge from Arsenal.
- Klopp makes one change to side from 4-0 win over Newcastle
- Maitland-Niles opens scoring for Arsenal early on
- Firmino immediately responds with two in two minutes
- Salah sets up Mane for the third and adds a penalty before half-time
- Firmino scores penalty to net first Reds hat-trick
The Reds were quickly on the front foot, pushing Arsenal back and asserting their dominance with the Anfield crowd behind them.
More than once Liverpool had a half-sight of goal after winning possession high upfield, but the first shot of note came from Arsenal after Fabinho‘s misplaced pass—only for Alisson to save at his near post.
Inside 10 minutes, however, the Gunners had breached the Reds’ previously impenetrable defence; Alex Iwobi get behind the back line on the left, crossed low and Ainsley Maitland-Niles slid in to score from close range.
Questions would have been asked over whether the Reds could mount a response—and Roberto Firmino provided the emphatic answer with two goals in 90 seconds.
First he made the most of a kind bounce in the box, tapping home after a tackle on Mohamed Salah broke his way, before he showed all his class and brilliance with his second, slaloming past two challenges and slotting home left-footed.
The Reds were causing Arsenal every time they attacked and the third duly arrived after little more than half-an-hour; a deep Andy Robertson ball, knocked back across goal by Salah and fired home by Sadio Mane.
Gini Wijnaldum was dominating the centre of the park, winning back the ball at every turn, and Arsenal were restricted to a couple of long-range efforts for the rest of the half.
It was the complete opposite at the other end of the pitch with the Reds’ pace and movement causing havoc, and another Salah dribble saw him fouled for a second penalty in successive games—and he No. 11 buried the spot-kick for 4-1 before the break.
The second half almost started in perfect fashion for Liverpool as Xherdan Shaqiri fed in Salah with a brilliant through pass, but the forward’s touch let him down.
Aaron Ramsey then shot across the face of goal and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should have scored – but fired over from two yards out, with the offside flag sparing his blushes in any case.
Liverpool continued to look dangerous going forward as Salah and Shaqiri combined more than once, Firmino had a fierce drive saved and Fabinho saw a near-post shot saved.
Lovren was then shoved over just past the hour mark for the second penalty of the game—and Firmino this time did bury his hat-trick goal, sending Bernd Leno the wrong way.
There were further efforts from the Reds, with Shaqiri curling one from range and sub Jordan Henderson driving forward from deep, while Klopp opted to make changes to rest a few key players ahead of the Man City game.
Mane and the irrepressible Wijnaldum were given a break first, while Nathaniel Clyne continued his recent return to semi-prominence as a late replacement for Robertson.
Anfield serenaded the players toward the final whistle in the knowledge that while a massive challenge lies ahead at the Etihad, the Reds will be far and away the Premier League‘s top team heading into the new year.
2018 comes toward a close in the Premier League with Liverpool enjoying a nine-point lead—until Sunday at least—and it was their own No. 9 who made the headlines with his hat-trick.
TIA Man of the Match: Gini Wijnaldum
Referee: Michael Oliver
Liverpool: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson (Clyne 82′); Wijnaldum (Lallana 77′), Fabinho; Shaqiri, Firmino, Mane (Henderson 61′); Salah.
Subs not used: Mignolet, Clyne, Keita, Sturridge, Origi.
Arsenal: Leno, Lichtsteiner, Mustafi (Koscielny 46′), Sokratis, Kolasinac (Guendozi 80′); Maitland-Niles, Torreira, Xhaka Iwobi; Ramsey; Aubameyang (Lacazette 70′).
Subs not used: Cech, Elneny, Guendozi, Willock, Saka.
Next Match: Man City (A) – Premier League – Thursday, January 3, 8pm (GMT)
* Additional reporting by ISNTV.