Liverpool extended their lead at the top of the Premier League to an imposing nine points with a devastating attacking dismissal of Arsenal at Anfield – with hat-trick hero Roberto Firmino the inspiration.
Arsenal took the lead after only 11 minutes when Ainsley Maitland-Niles slid in at the far post to score from Alex Iwobi’s cross – but it was a false dawn for Unai Emery’s side.
Liverpool, lifted after title rivals Tottenham’s home defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers earlier, responded with an explosive display that saw them 4-1 up by the interval and on their way to continuing their unbeaten league run to 20 games.
Firmino took advantage of Arsenal’s defensive confusion to quickly equalise then slalom past a posse of defenders to put Liverpool in front after Lucas Torreira lost possession, all in the space of two minutes.
Sadio Mane extended Liverpool’s lead after 32 minutes when Andrew Robertson’s long cross exposed Arsenal after they needlessly conceded a corner, before Mohamed Salah effectively ended the contest from the penalty spot in first-half stoppage time after he had been fouled by Sokratis.
Liverpool then cruised to close out the win, Firmino completing his hat-trick from the spot after 65 minutes following Sead Kolasinac’s push on Dejan Lovren.
Manchester City, 10 points adrift, will attempt to close the gap at Southampton on Sunday before they meet Liverpool in a pivotal encounter at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday, 3 January.
When Liverpool went behind to Maitland-Niles’ 11th minute strike, it was the first time they had trailed at Anfield in the Premier League since Leicester City led here on 30 December last year.
If there were any nerves troubling the new Premier League pace-setters, this might have been the moment for them to show – but not a bit of it.
Liverpool, admittedly helped by Arsenal and by a huge roar that swept around Anfield, were ahead in five minutes thanks to two Firmino goals and never looked back.
Instead of shrinking in the face of a setback, it was simply a case of Arsenal prodding the beast as Liverpool swarmed forward in the style that has become their trademark under Jurgen Klopp to record another statement win in this hugely impressive season.
After a period earlier in the campaign when the sparkle of last season was not quite there, Liverpool’s stardust is being sprinkled once more, in the main by that potent attacking trident of Firmino, Mane and Salah.
And the signs are ominous for the chasing pack, effectively Spurs and Manchester City, who are out to deprive Liverpool of their first title since 1990.
They have won 88 points from 37 league games in this calendar year – the highest points ratio in that spell in the club’s history at 2.38 points per game.
This statistic alone outlines the scale of their performances and means they are now rightly title favourites.
Liverpool’s greatest test of the season now awaits when they travel to Manchester City – but such is the level of confidence surging through a team that looks more like the complete package with every passing week, it is a challenge they will accept without any degree of concern.