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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

'Perfect' Liverpool as entertaining as Arsenal were depressing in Premier League clash

There is nothing new about Liverpool raising their game against elite opponents, particularly Arsenal.

Liverpool's Sadio Mane, left, celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game against Arsenal during their Premier League match at Anfield. Peter Byrne / AP Photo
Liverpool's Sadio Mane, left, celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game against Arsenal during their Premier League match at Anfield. Peter Byrne / AP Photo

Sometimes the predictable can still be hugely entertaining. Sometimes it can simply be depressing.

There is nothing new about Liverpool raising their game against elite opponents. There is no surprise when they overwhelm Arsenal with intent and intensity, with a fast start and playing at pace.

There is something eminently familiar about Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane scoring against the London club, which they did for the fourth and third time respectively in three games.

The damning element for Arsenal is that there was no shock in seeing them so ragged or so incapable of coping. For the second time in five months, they were abject at Anfield. “We were an easy opponent,” Arsene Wenger conceded.

He has been unable to formulate an answer to Jurgen Klopp’s high-energy approach since the German’s appointment. Liverpool have scored 14 goals in such meetings. They got four on Sunday. It could have been more. On a day of extremes, it ranked among Liverpool’s best performances under Klopp and Arsenal’s worst under Wenger.

“My memory is not big enough,” said the Frenchman, asked if his team had ever been beaten as comprehensively. He pulled no punches in a frank appraisal.

What went wrong? “Everything,” he said. “From the first to the last minute, not physically, not technically, not mentally we were not at the level and we were punished.”

Liverpool were captivating and coruscating, Arsenal limp and lame. Liverpool continued where they left off against Hoffenheim. They have destroyed the teams who finished fourth in the Bundesliga and fifth in the Premier League in the space of five days. For Arsenal, meanwhile, it was a disaster movie they had seen before.

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No great foresight was required to identify their main tormentors. Mane was electric as ever, Firmino typically elusive. They had allies, Mohamed Salah ensuring all of Liverpool’s front three scored. A fourth forward, Daniel Sturridge, added a fourth goal in his cameo.

In midfield, Emre Can played with rare dynamism, Jordan Henderson with great power and Georginio Wijnaldum with relish, running past opponents at will. Liverpool were dominant in every department.

It might have been different. Wenger strangely omitted his £53 million (Dh250.7m) forward Alexandre Lacazette. Danny Welbeck was preferred.

When leading the line, the eager Englishman can offer everything except goals. Unfortunately, he was being deployed as a centre-forward and scooped a shot over. Loris Karius, an equally unexpected choice in the Liverpool goal, had little to worry about thereafter.

Firmino headed Liverpool into the lead after a cross from Joe Gomez, part of a predictable early onslaught that could have yielded more goals. Petr Cech made a brilliant save from Salah. The offside Egyptian had a strike chalked off. Henderson rolled a shot across the face of goal.

Later Cech made a second superb save from Salah and Hector Bellerin cleared a Mane effort off the line after the goalkeeper slowed it down.

In between, Arsenal showed their naivety and Liverpool their acceleration in two instances of devastating counter attacking. For the second, Liverpool broke from their own box. Firmino – involved in six goals over the course of five days – released Mane, who cut inside Rob Holding and curled a shot into the far corner of the net.

Then came a 70-yard surge from Salah to add the third, the Egyptian robbing Bellerin after an Arsenal corner was cleared. Sturridge completed the rout, heading in Can’s cross.

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“The performance was perfect,” Klopp said. “The result is the result of the performance.”

Wenger said a sentence that was almost identical. It amounted to high praise from the German, fierce criticism from the Frenchman.

He gave a fit-again Alexis Sanchez a first appearance of the season. The Chilean did have the ball in the net, but only long after the whistle had gone and he was demoted to the ranks of a subplot.

His teammates were so wretched they seemed to be ushering a man accustomed to higher standards towards the exit. If so, it was an ignominious way to say goodbye.