Liverpool moved nine points clear at the top of the Premier League table after recording a resounding 5-1 win over Arsenal on Saturday evening.
The Gunners grabbed an 11th-minute opener at Anfield when Ainsley Maitland-Niles slid Alex Iwobi’s low ball across the face of goal into the back of the net.
However, two goals in 90 seconds from Roberto Firmino turned the contest in the Reds’ favour when the No.9 tapped in from close range following a defensive mix-up before netting with a wonderful solo surge into the box.
Sadio Mane added a third just after the 30-minute mark, crashing in Mohamed Salah’s cushioned lay-off from close range – and, typically, the Egyptian got his own name on the scoresheet with a penalty in first-half stoppage-time.
Firmino completed his hat-trick – also from the spot – on 65 minutes to seal victory for Liverpool.
With Tottenham Hotspur having earlier lost to Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester City not in action at Southampton until Sunday, the result means the Reds sit nine points ahead in the standings having ended 2018 in sublime style.
The team news…
Jürgen Klopp elected to make just one change from the team deployed against Newcastle United on Boxing Day, with Fabinho coming in for Jordan Henderson.
The first half…
Liverpool got the game under way at Anfield knowing how valuble a victory would prove at the top of the table – and roared on by the vocal support inside the stadium, they set about taking the game to their opponents.
The first chance came – somewhat inadvertently – via Salah, who deflected a Firmino strike into the side netting inside the opening five minutes.
Arsenal demonstrated their threat soon after when Iwobi pounced on a wayward ball from Fabinho and strode forward before having a low drive beaten around the near post by Alisson Becker.
And just over a minute later, the visitors were ahead as Iwobi’s low centre across the area was turned over the line on the slide by Maitland-Niles at the back stick.
But it was an advantage they were only able to preserve for a matter of moments as Stephan Lichtsteiner crashed an attempted clearance against Shkodran Mustafi inside the visitors’ box, enabling Firmino to roll the ball into an unguarded net from close range.
The turnaround was completed just 90 seconds later when Granit Xhaka was dispossessed by Mane inside his own half. Firmino collected the ball and slalomed his way beyond three challenges, feinted to send Bernd Leno to the ground before slotting into the corner.
It was to get even better just after the half-hour mark, too. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cleared corner was hoisted back into the area, where Salah crept in behind an Arsenal backline attempting to push out. The Egyptian nudged the ball across goal, where Mane arrived to sweep in.
Of course, Salah wasn’t to be denied a goal of his own when he swept in a penalty in first-half stoppage-time after being tripped by Sokratis Papastathopoulos. It was a moment that owed much to the vision of Alisson, whose half-volleyed pass to Firmino across 45 yards sparked the counter that enabled Liverpool to return to the dressing room 4-1 ahead.
The second half…
The Reds threatened a fifth almost immediately following the restart; however, Salah couldn’t take the ball around Leno when sent scampering into space by Xherdan Shaqiri’s pass.
At the other end, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang appeared to spurn a glorious chance for the Gunners when he scooped over unmarked and just yards out from Aaron Ramsey’s ball, but the forward was flagged offside.
Henderson entered the action in place of Mane on the hour – and Fabinho was denied a second goal in the space of four days when Leno pushed his low drive around the post following an excellent flick from Salah to create the opportunity.
However, from the resulting corner, Sead Kolasinac’s push on Dejan Lovren saw Liverpool awarded a second penalty – and Firmino duly dispatched it to clinch his hat-trick after Salah handed him the ball.
It was the final mark on the scoresheet to cap the best possible end to the calendar year for Klopp’s side as they moved nine points clear at the summit.