Who says Liverpool are out of the title race? Well, Brendan Rodgers and most of their supporters actually, but if they can keep up this irrepressible home form they can certainly have a say in the destination of the trophy and possibly improve on their current fourth place.
Chelsea and Manchester City have still to visit Anfield this season and they will be hoping to escape with less of a mauling than the then league leaders, who were so traumatised after a whirlwind first half-hour that they stopped going forward for fear of leaving more space for Liverpool to exploit at the back. Steven Gerrard said beforehand that Liverpool needed to reproduce the aggression and dynamism they showed in the Merseyside derby to have any chance against Arsenal, and if anything they improved on that high standard. Everton were only three goals down at half-time, after all, and perfectly happy to settle for a 4-0 result after a taking a pounding.
Arsenal were three goals down inside 20 minutes, four by the interval, and even that could have been worse. Daniel Sturridge missed a great chance after slick, first-time passing on 12 minutes, and when Luis Suárez slapped a shot against an upright to narrowly miss out on what would have been one of the goals of the season, Kolo Touré was too surprised to tuck away a straightforward rebound. Going a goal down within a minute is never ideal, but once Arsenal had to chase the game, Mesut Özil became a disappointingly peripheral figure, barely engaging in the game and coughing up possession to send Jordan Henderson on his way to set up the third goal. Only Jack Wilshere seemed to have the stomach for a fight and the will to take the game to Liverpool, though in what was at times an ill-tempered contest between the two No 10s, he lost his personal battle with the excellent Philippe Coutinho.
Better finishing by Henderson after an hour would have brought a sixth goal and a fitting reward for a typical piece of skill from Coutinho, who shimmied effortlessly away from Wilshere just inside his own half then played a 40-yard pass that caught out Laurent Koscielny to leave the Liverpool midfielder a clear run on goal. Slightly less spectacular, though every bit as impressive, was the sublime pass for the fourth goal, weighted perfectly to drop behind the two Arsenal centre-backs and allowing Sturridge to use his pace to come from an onside position and find the space behind the back line.
That was why Arsenal ended up frightened to come forward. In a first half-hour that was bordering on mesmerising, everything Liverpool attempted seemed to come off. Their passing was so crisp and accurate on the counter that they would not have been flattered by a couple more goals. True, the first two came from set pieces, but the tone for the afternoon was set by the way Suárez won the free-kick for the first, making Per Mertesacker look ponderous with a sudden dart down the left wing. A Suárez goal to add to his 23 in the league this season was the only thing missing, from a Liverpool point of view, and he did his best to score one in the second half, though what this game proved is that Rodgers is no longer wholly reliant on the Uruguayan’s goals. Even stationed wide right in what his manager termed “a selfless role for the team”, Suárez caused the Arsenal defence problems throughout, but so did Coutinho, Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, while Gerrard contented himself with a disciplined defensive contribution, frequently getting in the way of Arsenal attacks with a tackle or a block on the edge of his own area.
Not that there were all that many Arsenal attacks, for this was a lethargic, almost timid, performance by the league leaders, who must be glad for once that they only face Manchester United in midweek before Liverpool come round again in the FA Cup then Bayern Munich arrive in the Champions League. A crucial period for Arsène Wenger and his players could hardly have got off to a more confidence-draining start. “We were poor, but it’s how we respond that matters,” the Arsenal manager said.
The Gunners were outgunned here to an even greater extent than when beaten 6-3 at Manchester City in December and, somewhat surprisingly given that Manuel Pellegrini’s side have been garnering all the accolades for finding the net this season, Liverpool are now just five behind them for goals scored in the Premier League.
Anfield was pleasantly stunned. “Top of the league, you’re having a laugh,” was the best the Kop could offer in the first half, followed by “Are you Tottenham in disguise?” in the second. Not exactly vintage Scouse wit, but under Rodgers, whose name was regularly chanted as a sign of approval, Liverpool are well on their way to producing another vintage