Skrtel 1' 10'
Sterling 17' 52'
Arteta 69' (pen)
5-0 Tottenham, 4-0 Everton, 5-1 Arsenal. Hey, remember when Liverpool won just once in 12 matches against the sides that finished ahead of them in the table last season? Right. Me neither.
This was Everton all over again, even more emphatically. 5-1 flatters Arsenal. The same starting XI, if slightly different in set-up, with Sterling on the left, Suarez on the right, and Sturridge as spearhead. The same blitzkrieg start, out of sight before the opposition even settled. The same compact midfield, the same high pressing and refusal to let Arsenal settle on the ball, the same utter ruthlessness on the counter, coupled with Liverpool's continued potency on set plays.
Anyway. Football. I don't think I've seen an opening 20 minutes like that at Anfield since Real Madrid in 2009.— Kristian Walsh (@Kristian_Walsh) February 8, 2014
That seems the perfect comparison. A frightening opponent, who unexpectedly got their doors fully blown off. Except, of course, Liverpool scored just once in the first 20 minutes against Madrid, swaggeringly imperious but unable to put the game out of reach until just after halftime. By the 20th minute today, Liverpool had four: a set play brace for Skrtel, and two breakneck counters finished by Sterling and Sturridge. And probably should have had six.
When Skrtel scored within 40 seconds, arguably offside when kneeing Gerrard's free kick into the net, you couldn't help but think back to Chelsea, the eerie similarity to an early set play goal against that London lot. But Liverpool didn't let you worry for long, scoring again from its second set play, a glorious free header from the same Slovakian on Gerrard's corner, arrowed into the top corner from nine yards out. 10 minutes in, and Skrtel's on a hat-trick. Is this the real life or is this just fantasy?
And that wasn't all. Szczesny denied Flanagan, Sturridge chipped wide, Suarez cannoned a brilliant half-volley off the post, and Toure somehow fouled up the ricochet rebound. At this point, last season's trip to the Emirates crept back into the memory, two goals up but succumbing to Arsenal's irrepressible final half an hour, lucky to hold on for the draw. Easy come, easy go.
But again, not today, as Liverpool's high pressing, even better than that against Everton, swiftly led to two more. Henderson stole the first from Özil, drove at Arsenal's defense before feeding Suarez, whose low cross through the six-yard box was perfectly placed for either Sterling or Sturridge to tap in; Sterling just got there first. Coutinho stepped in front of Wilshere to intercept the second and somehow split two defenders with a 40-yard throughball to put Sturridge in on goal, coolly finished around a helpless Szczesny.
That complete thrashing allowed Liverpool to cruise for the next 70 minutes, soaking up all of Arsenal's pressure and not really testing Szczesny for the rest of the first half. Liverpool had 10 shots in the opening 45 minutes, six of them on target, four of them finding the back of the net. Arsenal had one, which went out for a throw-in. That's even more impressive when you remember how Arsenal's cut Liverpool open in the last three meetings, scoring twice in all three.
And like against Everton, Liverpool added the gloss soon after halftime: another blazing transition, Toure's ball over the top releasing an onside Sterling ahead of Arsenal's broken high line, the first effort saved by Szczesny but the second easily put past the prone goalkeeper.
Despite Liverpool's contentment with the scoreline and despite Arsenal's unnecessary consolation, through Gerrard's rash tackle on Oxlade-Chamberlain – no matter the captain's maturation, he still sometimes can't help the big game adrenaline rush – Liverpool remained the more threatening. Sterling denied at the back post on yet another set play; Szczesny preventing shots from Suarez, Coutinho, and Sterling; Henderson chipping wide on yet another counter. Arteta's free kick saved by Mignolet was the only other time the Belgian was called into action, and Liverpool had the luxury of removing Sturridge, Gerrard, and Suarez for Allen, Ibe, and Aspas over the final 25 minutes.
Starting Sterling on the left, better able to track back, better able to limit the damage Sagna's capable of, worked a treat. Suarez equally put in a shift on the right, up against the less-attacking Monreal. Coutinho and Henderson's pressing, combined with the three attackers, couldn't have been better. But sometimes it's as simple as Liverpool getting the early goal thanks to their set play prowess and then not taking their foot off Arsenal's neck until they got three more. Sterling and Henderson were the standouts, Coutinho not far behind, but every Liverpool player was outstanding today. As if you can say anything else after that result.
All this, of course, begs the question as to why Liverpool couldn't do it against Hull, Villa, West Brom, etc. I'm sorry; I can't help being a pessimist and/or a jerk. But it is evidence that this team's still very much in its formative stage, despite these shellackings delivered to three opponents who've tormented Liverpool in recent years.
That shouldn't dull any of today's good feelings. Liverpool, and its fans, deserve to bask in this scoreline, especially given the voodoo Arsenal's had over Liverpool over the last seven or so years. But it should be a warning that a result on Wednesday at Fulham isn't guaranteed, no matter how well Liverpool played today or how bad Fulham's been all season long.