Liverpool showed no signs of fatigue from their midweek exertions with a counter-attacking masterclass to dismantle Arsenal in a highly convincing 4-0 Premier League victory at Anfield.
A 6-3 aggregate victory over Hoffenheim, completed on Wednesday, clinched a return to the Champions League but did not appear to take its toll on Liverpool, who were full of energy as they punished a shambolic display from Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger shuffled his back three after last weekend’s dismal 1-0 defeat at Stoke City but they were left exposed when Liverpool regained possession high up the pitch and Roberto Firmino headed in the opener.
The visitors were caught out again when Sadio Mane finished off a move that flew from one box to the other and some woeful defending from the bungling Hector Bellerin allowed Mohamed Salah to surge clear to put the result beyond doubt in the second half.
Daniel Sturridge, a 74th-minute replacement for Mane, added gloss to a scoreline that will help overshadow the confusion regarding Simon Mignolet being dropped from the matchday squad as Loris Karius started his first top-flight game since December.
Despite the return of star forward Alexis Sanchez to the starting line-up after an abdominal injury Arsenal were left to mull on another chastening defeat that leaves them with just one win from their first three games.
Danny Welbeck led the Arsenal line ahead of Alexandre Lacazette and wasted a glorious chance to repay Wenger’s faith when he lost his footing and fired over under pressure from Joe Gomez.
Salah would have similarly been ruing his finishing in the 10th minute. Emre Can burst into the box via a one-two with Firmino and rolled a cross to the back post for the Egyptian, whose shot along the ground was blocked brilliantly by Petr Cech at full stretch.
A length-of-the-pitch break was finished off exquisitely by Mane, who stepped inside Rob Holding on the left and curled a great effort into the far corner.
Wenger replaced Aaron Ramsey – who was making his 300th appearance for the club – with Francis Coquelin for the second half to tighten up Arsenal’s porous midfield, but an error from Nacho Monreal led to Salah forcing another save from Cech.
Salah was not so forgiving with his next opportunity, nicking the ball away from Bellerin and sprinting from inside his own half to coolly slot past Cech.
Liverpool were relentless and Cech stayed big to stop Salah adding to their tally in stoppage-time, but it provided Arsenal scant relief as they head into the international break following a stinging loss.
Key Opta stats:
– This was Arsenal’s heaviest Premier League defeat since a 0-4 loss to Southampton at St Mary’s on Boxing Day 2015.
– Four of Arsenal’s eight Premier League defeats by a margin of 4+ goals have come against Liverpool at Anfield.
– Arsenal have lost their first two Premier League away games in a season for only the second time under Arsene Wenger (the other was 2005-06).
– Arsenal didn’t attempt a single shot on target in this match – the first time they haven’t had one in a Premier League game since October 5th 2014 (vs Chelsea).
– Liverpool have kept four clean sheets in a row at Anfield in the Premier League for the first time since September 2013.
– Arsenal have lost nine of their last 14 Premier League away matches (W4 D1 L9) – their previous nine away defeats in the competition came over a period of 47 games (W25 D13 L9).
– Liverpool’s third goal (Mohamed Salah) came only 12 seconds after Arsenal took a corner.
– Roberto Firmino has scored and assisted in a game on eight occasions since his Premier League debut in August 2015; no player has done so more often than him in this period (Costa & Lukaku also on 8).
– Sadio Mané is only the 3rd player to score in the first 3 PL games of a season for Liverpool (after Robbie Fowler in 1994-95 & Daniel Sturridge in 2013-14).