Liverpool moved up to third place in the Premier League on Saturday evening with a win over an Arsenal side missing key man Alexis Sanchez, who was only selected for the bench.
Sanchez was presumably being rested with the second leg in the Champions League against Bayern Munich in midweek in mind, although most people would assume that the tie is already over anyway given the first leg score.
Liverpool – backed by a noisy Anfield crowd – began the game with a point to prove following the poor showing against Leicester City on Monday night. It took just nine minutes for the home side to take the lead, having started with real intent.
Arsenal were all over the place at the back as Liverpool attacked with pace and power. Sadio Mane found some space on the right-hand side of the penalty area, and fired the ball across goal to Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian had so much time inside the six-yard box that he was able to take a touch before firing into the top of the Anfield Road net.
Liverpool were all over Arsenal’s midfield whenever they got the ball, with Gini Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana pouncing on mistakes and regaining possession consistently with ease. The Dutchman, who was awful on Monday night, redeemed himself with a stellar showing; he – like most of the team – played like they had been told to find a reaction, and they did just that.
Nathaniel Clyne was found by a cross-field pass from Emre Can to set up a chance, and Firmino went close again soon after, before Arsenal took hold of the ball for a short period.
That period was minimal, with Liverpool containing well when necessary, before Firmino and Coutinho both had chances once more.
On 40 minutes, Liverpool extended their lead, deservedly moving further in front before the break. A beautifully worked goal it was too, with the ball being shifted quickly from left to right. It was Mane with the final touch, with a cool finish into the corner.
Even before half-time could arrive, it should have been 3-0. Coutinho had a chance from about four yards out, but only found the gloves of Petr Cech. At 3-0, the game would have been over.
At half-time, Alexis Sanchez was brought on. His quality was immediately apparent, and you could sense that the Liverpool back-line was fearful of his speed and fast feet.
Arsenal, now with their talisman on the field, hit back soon into the second half with a period of pressure. Twelve minutes in, and the pressure told.
Sanchez was allowed to easily advance through the centre of the pitch, before teeing up Danny Welbeck, who caught Nathaniel Clyne napping. His chip over Mignolet was delightful, but Liverpool could equally have defended it better.
That goal sparked the Arsenal players to life, as they reacted with their longest spell of possession, pinning the Red’s defence on the edge of their own penalty area.
Hector Bellerin caused James Milner some problems and Emre Can was booked for trying to hack down Sanchez when he skipped past him on a counter-attack, but Liverpool largely remained resolute.
Joel Matip went close from a corner, but it was now more about holding onto the lead rather than needing to extend it.
Liverpool defended well, although there was still enough time for substitute Divock Origi to hit the post with a header, as well as set up another goal.
Liverpool, under pressure going into the three minutes of added time, managed to break clear. Adam Lallana, who worked tirelessly throughout, produced a trademark turn before feeding the Belgian, who then crossed for Wijnaldum to finish with aplomb.
It was nothing less than the Dutchman deserved; arguably only Lallana was better than him on the day.
Not for the first time, Liverpool were superb in a big game, and fully deserved the win. The real test now is to maintain that next week for the visit of Burnley, or this week’s brilliance will soon be forgotten.
Liverpool need a run now to the end of the season which will not be easy, but such a competent victory today is a promising start.
Simon Mignolet, 8 – made an excellent save in the first half, but his distribution was questionable at times when he was closed down, especially in the second period
Nathaniel Clyne, 7 – some good attacking play but not the best defensively on the goal; not quite as good as he was against Tottenham but a decent showing overall
Joel Matip, 8 – an assured performance; looked very comfortable alongside a regular centre back in contrast to last week with Lucas
Klavan, 8 – a very accomplished performance considering he has not played for a while; excellent distribution and hardly put a foot wrong throughout
James Milner, 8 – very comfortable for most of the game and was able to control the game well; a captain’s performance from left-back with his experience vital in the latter stages
Emre Can, 7 – an excellent defensive showing for most of the game, slotting in to the back line when necessary, although slightly lucky not to have been sent off
Adam Lallana, 9 – a man-of-the-match display from the England international, with his pressing and energy levels second in impressiveness only to his technique; there is currently no English player capable of such intelligent running and quality on the ball with both feet
Gini Wijnaldum, 9 – another superb midfielder’s performance topped with a goal; perhaps his most impressive game as a Liverpool player so far going forward and also defensively
Philippe Coutinho, 7 – looked sharp at times but not quite back to his best; sometimes on the periphery but it does not matter when the players around him are so impressive
Roberto Firmino, 8 – won a number of headers and flick-ons throughout the match; lost the ball easily at times but always won it back by tracking back diligently
Sadio Mane, 9 – another contender for man-of-the-match with some direct running at Nacho Monreal and lots of end product; also tracked back to cover Danny Welbeck when necessary, although he mostly pinned him back going the other way
Divock Origi (80th minute sub.), 8 – did well to win a number of headers and set up the final goal with a good cross; looked considerably sharper than in recent weeks when he has been miles off the pace
Lucas (92nd minute sub.), n/a
Trent Alexander Arnold (93rd minute sub.), n/a
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