Kostas Tsimikas, team celebration, Arsenal (Image: Peter Byrne, Alamy)

Show them the way to go home: Pretenders are swept aside

Arsenal arrived at Anfield quite full of themselves, but well and truly left after being put firmly in their place.

Opposition who were on a blossoming unbeaten run, a team that has been enjoying the green shoots of a delayed recovery, with a maximum capacity of away support in tow, that were quite full of themselves for half an hour.

Despite Liverpool having already faced Chelsea, and Man City this season, on paper Saturday evening represented the biggest test of the season so far.

Arsenal, an entity in form going into the game, came to Anfield in their best condition for years, sudden purveyors of an attractive brand of football that had started to collate the type results it kind of deserved, having previously spent the formative spell of Mikel Arteta’s tenure as the footballing visage of that whimsically abstract kid on the playground who is cruelly and routinely dispossessed of his dinner money by ‘big lads’.

Their mini-renaissance had gained such traction that a win for Arsenal would have unsettlingly seen them leap above Jurgen Klopp’s side in the Premier League table.

By full time, the concept of an Arsenal victory at Anfield was rendered as a prospect of utter fantasy, thanks to a magnificent hour of football, beyond the ignition of an animated touchline difference of opinion between the respective managers.

2H75E0T Liverpool, England, 20th November 2021. Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool and Mikel Arteta manager of Arsenal disagree and are kept apart during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. Picture credit should read: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

Anfield was largely in snooze mode for the first 30 minutes of this one.

5.30pm kick-offs on a Saturday are a strange land. You’ve seen the rest of the day’s results roll in, and given Chelsea’s win at Leicester City, Liverpool had found themselves seven points adrift of the leaders.

I wouldn’t class it as an anxious atmosphere, but the congregation at Anfield were quite subdued in the early exchanges of this one. A lack of inspiration hung in the air as far as the supporters were concerned, and the visiting contingent resorted to goading tactics, buoyed as they were by their recent run.

It was as if Anfield was within a Saturday evening slumber, a stasis that could easily have passed for sitting at home, plonked on the sofa, watching Catchphrase, while waiting for your takeaway of choice to arrive.

Arteta unwittingly provided the pivot upon which the evening tilted. His overreaction to Sadio Mane challenging Takehiro Tomiyasu precipitated an impassioned response from Klopp, which in turn roused those who were dozing in the stands. Yellow cards were flashed on the touchline, yet none on the pitch itself. It was an incident that basically incited a football match.

On the pitch, up until this point, Liverpool hadn’t been playing particularly poorly, but there was a noticeable clicking into the higher gears as the remainder of the first half played itself out.

Mane, a man who seemed completely bewildered by the reactions of his coming together with Tomiyasu then opened the scoring, meeting Trent Alexander-Arnold’s free kick with a downward header that Aaron Ramsdale might have done better with.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, November 20, 2021: Liverpool's Sadio Mané celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Ramsdale proved a belligerent presence in goal for Arsenal, both before and after Liverpool finally made the breakthrough. Despite this, he would be largely powerless to stem the red tide that swept in his direction during the second half, able only to keep the scoreline to vaguely respectable levels, rather than keeping his team in the game to any great extent.

A gift-wrapped start to the second half, Varela Tavares comedically laid on the second Liverpool goal for the loitering Diogo Jota. Not an easy task to pick out the Portuguese international considering he was loosely orbited by five Arsenal players, the ball was dispatched with a marvellous impudence.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, November 20, 2021: Liverpool's Diogo Jota goes around Arsenal's goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale to score the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

By the time Mohamed Salah was making it 3-0, any pretence of a contest was over. This was a goal laid on by Mane, a combination and celebration between two players who were perceived to be a little bit more than competitive rivals of one another not all that long ago.

It was a collective performance that Alexander-Arnold referred to as a blur of red, he was right, no more so than during Liverpool’s fourth goal, which was a wonderfully worked piece of footballing art, that was converted by Takumi Minamino.

The perfect day for Liverpool, the comfort with which they found themselves allowed Klopp to throw Tyler Morton the last ten minutes or so. Intimations of an injury to Jota aside, this was an immensely profitable evening for Klopp.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, November 20, 2021: Liverpool's Takumi Minamino scores the fourth goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Now we move on to what has effectively become the first of two meaningless Champions League group games, when FC Porto roll into town on Wednesday evening. Yet, these will be games that will be far from meaningless to players like Minamino, and Morton.

Klopp’s line-ups for these last two group games will be of a League Cup hue, a combination of experienced players hovering upon the periphery of the team and young talent looking to impress, interspersed with a handful of first choice figures who will be forced into action by the current absentees.

Beyond that, we have the visit of Southampton on Saturday in the Premier League. A game where standards cannot be allowed to drop on a weekend during which Chelsea and Man City will be up against teams with points to prove to themselves, but maybe not the wherewithal to do it.

Show them the way to go home…