Roberto Firmino was at his ruthless best as he scored his first Premier League hat-trick to inspire a 5-1 demolition of Arsenal at Anfield and put Liverpool nine points clear at the summit after Tottenham’s defeat to Wolves.
The visit of Unai Emery’s men was seen as a potentially troublesome fixture, but the Reds made light work of them, with all of their revered front three finding the net in a devastating performance.
A chaotic five-minute spell in the first half saw Ainsley Maitland-Niles put Arsenal ahead, before a quickfire Firmino brace turned the score around. Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah ensured a rampant Liverpool went into the break 4-1 up.
Liverpool’s pressure did not subside after half-time and Firmino completed his treble from the spot 25 minutes from time, rounding off a miserable day for the Gunners and increasing the heat on Manchester City ahead of their meeting with Southampton on Sunday.
Arsenal went ahead in the 11th minute when Maitland-Niles tapped in Alex Iwobi’s excellent left-wing cross.
But within five minutes, they were trailing.
Firmino equalised from close range after Stephan Lichtsteiner played a clearance against Shkodran Mustafi.
The Brazilian then brilliantly slalomed past two defenders and finished coolly into the bottom-right corner from 18 yards 90 seconds later.
Mane got in on the act just past the half-hour mark, emphatically slamming home after a squared pass from Salah.
The Egyptian scored their fourth on the stroke of half-time, converting a penalty after referee Michael Oliver adjudged he had been tripped by Sokratis Papastathopoulos.
Liverpool remained dominant after the interval, but Aaron Ramsey did go close to pulling one back – his shot deflecting away from the target, before an offside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang comically put over from close range.
Firmino wrapped things up in the 65th minute, scoring from the spot after Sead Kolasinac appeared to nudge Dejan Lovren to the ground.
There’s something that the Kop wants you to know… pic.twitter.com/1iIYMNdrl7
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 29, 2018
What does it mean? Liverpool flex their muscles ahead of City showdown
An away game against City comes up next for Liverpool, and this was certainly an impressive way to warm up for such an outing. With their front three in fine form, Klopp got the perfect collective performance to instil a bit of fear into Pep Guardiola’s men.
Firmino the star
All three of Liverpool’s frontline deserve honourable mentions, but Firmino was the standout for his link-up play, clever off-the-ball movement and three goals – the second of which being brilliant. A flawless display.
Torreira chasing shadows
Young Uruguayan Lucas Torreira has made a strong start to life in the Premier League, though he was miles off the pace at Anfield, his usual snappy style nowhere to be seen.
Key Opta facts
3 – Roberto Firmino has become the third Brazilian player to score a @premierleague hat-trick, after Robinho (Man City v Stoke in Oct 2008) and Afonso Alves (Middlesbrough v Man City in May 2008). Samba. #LIVARS pic.twitter.com/kDpeVLh54X
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 29, 2018
– Arsenal versus Liverpool is now the highest scoring fixture in Premier League history (155 goals).
– Liverpool have accrued 54 points from their opening 20 Premier League games this season; when assuming three points for a win, only Chelsea (55 in 2005-06) and Manchester City (58 in 2017-18) have ever had more at this stage in English top-flight history.
– Arsenal conceded four goals in the first half of a Premier League game for the fourth time, with Liverpool responsible for two of those (Feb 2014 and today, as well as Man Utd in Feb 2001 and Chelsea in March 2014).
– Liverpool are now unbeaten in 31 Premier League games at Anfield (W22 D9), their joint-longest ever unbeaten home run in the competition, having also gone 31 without defeat between December 2007 and August 2009.
– Arsenal are now without a win in their last 20 away league games against fellow “big-six” opposition (D7 L13), losing 10 of their last 12 such matches (D2).
– Roberto Firmino has been directly involved in 11 goals in his eight Premier League games against Arsenal for Liverpool (8 goals, 3 assists), more than he has against any other opponent in the competition.
– Roberto Firmino’s hat-trick is the sixth to have been scored in fixtures between Arsenal and Liverpool in the Premier League – the most hat-tricks in a single fixture in Premier League history.
– Mohamed Salah has both scored and assisted in the same Premier League game for the 10th time since the start of last season for Liverpool; only Neymar (11) has done so on more occasions in the big-five European leagues in that time.
Liverpool get 2019 started on January 3 with a trip to defending champions City, in a game which will likely have a significant bearing on where the Premier League title ends up this season. Arsenal host Fulham on New Year’s Day.