This was an experience so chastening for Liverpool it had the statisticians flicking through the history books for the last time they conceded six goals at home. The relevant page can be found in the records for the 1929-30 season, when Sunderland won here 6-0, and at the final whistle last night Anfield was in shock. Outfought, out-thought and, ultimately, outclassed.
Arsène Wenger's exciting team performed so dazzlingly it felt like a trick of the mind that Thierry Henry had been given the night off, along with eight other players from the side that won here 3-1 in the FA Cup on Saturday. Four of their goals were supplied by Julio Baptista, who also missed a penalty, and for long spells they shimmered with menace every time they took possession in the opposition half.
For Arsenal, a semi-final awaits against their old friends Tottenham and, beyond that, an exhilarating future for academy graduates such as Alexandre Song and Armand Traoré. For Liverpool, there will be only recriminations and an inquest into a night that brutally exposed a team overly reliant on two or three individuals.
The difference between the two teams was immense. Arsenal played with flair and purpose; Liverpool were dishevelled and short of leadership, even with Steven Gerrard in midfield and experienced figures such as Robbie Fowler and Craig Bellamy in attack. Much of the criticism will be levelled at Jerzy Dudek but the goalkeeper was far from alone in his culpability and Rafael Benítez was grey with anger as he apologised after the game and admitted it was "difficult to explain".
To their credit, the Liverpool fans applauded Arsenal's players off the pitch. Earlier, though, the Kop had flirted with turning against their own team and when Baptista scored the final goal large numbers had seen enough. Wenger's youthful, exuberant players showed everything that is good about the club's one-touch, pass-them-to-death philosophy and, for the home supporters, it was painful to watch. For the rest of us, it was bewitching.
Where to begin? Probably in the fourth minute when Mark González slid into a challenge on Theo Walcott, screamed in pain and after six minutes of treatment was taken to hospital with a suspected broken tibia. X-rays showed only a six-inch gash and serious bruising but for Liverpool the evening rapidly went downhill.
The rout began in the 27th minute when Jérémie Aliadière, outstanding all night, capitalised on some rank defending to defy a malfunctioning offside trap and poke the ball beneath Dudek.
The home side stirred. Manuel Almunia, the Arsenal goalkeeper, palmed away Fabio Aurelio's free-kick and Luis García turned the ball across the six-yard area for Fowler to score. But Baptista made it 2-1 with an exquisite free-kick that left Dudek rooted to the spot. Then, in first-half stoppage time, Dudek et al went Awol again as Cesc Fábregas swung in a corner and Song bundled the ball in. The rumblings of dissent from the Kop grew louder a minute later when Baptista played a one-two with Aliadière and stroked in his second.
Four-one down, the best Liverpool could hope for in the second half was to restore some dignity and at least Dudek could cite the moment, on 56 minutes, when he saved Baptista's penalty after a Sami Hyypia foul on Aliadière. Baptista made amends, however, completing his hat-trick from 25 yards four minutes later.
Briefly, Liverpool surged back. Gerrard volleyed a splendid goal and saw Almunia tip his free-kick on to the bar. Then, after García too had been carried off, Hyypia headed in Gabriel Paletta's cross to make it 5-3 but not even Liverpool, with their history of comebacks, could recover this time and soon afterwards Baptista scored another brilliant breakaway goal - becoming the first visiting player to score four times at Anfield since Dennis Westcott in a 5-1 win for Wolves 61 years ago. A busy night for the statisticians and an even busier one for Liverpool's defenders.
Goals and bookings
27' 0-1 Aliadiere
31' Song Bilong
33' Fowler 1-1
40' 1-2 Baptista
45' 1-3 Song Bilong
45' 1-4 Baptista
60' 1-5 Baptista
68' Gerrard 2-5
80' Hyypia 3-5
84' 3-6 Baptista
Jerzy Dudek, Fabio Aurelio, Danny Guthrie, Sami Hyypia, Gabriel Paletta, Steven Gerrard, Mark Gonzalez (Javier Sanz Luis Garcia (Jamie Carragher)), Stephen Warnock (Xabi Alonso), Craig Bellamy, Robbie Fowler, Lee Peltier
Manuel Rivero Almunia, Johan Djourou, Justin Hoyte, Kolo Toure, Armand Traore (Matthew Connolly), Julio Cesar Baptista, Pereira Neves Denilson, Cesc Fabregas, Alexandre Song Bilong, Jeremie Aliadiere, Theo Walcott (Vassiriki Abou Diaby)
Referee: Atkinson, M
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