Klopp's dazzling Reds hit new heights as 2018 ends with Anfield bang
Liverpool verdict -
A hat-trick from Roberto Firmino and goals from Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah sealed a sensational victory against Arsenal
By James Pearce
20:57, 29 DEC 2018
They can't say they weren't warned.
No sooner had Jurgen Klopp declared that Liverpool had yet to perform to their full potential, his dazzling title chasers proved him right by lifting this remarkable season to new heights.
Arsenal were blown away as the box office Reds signed off a memorable 2018 with a bang at Anfield to move nine points clear at the top. They will take some shifting.
Unai Emery's men were the last team to find a way to deny Liverpool victory in the Premier League but this time around they were the victims of a ruthless demolition job.
A ninth successive league victory was secured with a devastating show of force. This is a team operating to an incredible level in all departments.
After a slow start to the season, the Brazil striker has shown signs of getting back to his blistering best in recent weeks and this was the night when everything truly clicked.
This was the Firmino who plundered 27 goals last term and established himself as one of the most feared frontmen in European football. Arsenal's defenders will be seeing him in their nightmares.
Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah also got in on the act as Klopp's red arrows delivered their array of tricks - much to the delight of their adoring public.
There's individual brilliance in abundance but crucially there's also a collective unity and hunger which is driving Klopp's men on.
There was no hint of panic after Ainsley Maitland-Niles put Arsenal in front – the first time Liverpool had trailed in a home league game for 364 days. Instead they kept their composure and roared back to extend their unbeaten league run at Anfield to 31 games dating back to April 2017.
Keeping a lid on emotions isn't easy when Liverpool find themselves in such a position of strength in pursuit of the prize Kopites have waited 29 years to clinch.
But rather than feel the pressure, the Reds have embraced taking the leap from contenders to favourites. They know they belong at the summit.
December has been a month to cherish. Eight games, seven league wins and a gutsy triumph over Napoli which secured their passage into the last 16 of the Champions League.
There were no wild celebrations from Klopp after the final whistle. A clenched fist was held aloft towards the Kop before he headed for the tunnel.
2018 will go down as a year of immense progress from the run to the Champions League final to launching a record-breaking Premier League title challenge.
It's been fuelled by Klopp's tactical acumen, expert man-management and shrewd recruitment. Liverpool will enter 2019 in unbelievable shape.
Klopp had eulogised in the build up about Arsenal's strengths and that respect was underlined when the teamsheet dropped. Despite this being a third game in eight days, there was just one solitary change with Fabinho recalled at the expense of Jordan Henderson.
The buoyant mood around Anfield was enhanced before kick-off by news of Tottenham's shock defeat at the hands of Wolves.
Klopp's players fed off that energy from the stands as they flew out of the traps. Liverpool pressed relentlessly and the rattled Gunners kept on coughing up possession.
Mane's cut back was driven goalwards by Firmino and flicked off Salah before flying narrowly wide.
The Reds' shape defensively was less impressive early on. There was little protection and when Arsenal ventured forward the hosts looked vulnerable.
There was a warning when Fabinho's stray pass left the Reds exposed and Alex Iwobi forced a sprawling save from Alisson Becker.
But it wasn't heeded and the visitors grabbed the opener on 11 minutes. Dejan Lovren gave it away cheaply and Iwobi's cross was turned home at the back post by Maitland-Niles.
It was the first time Liverpool had fallen behind in a home league game since Jamie Vardy scored for Leicester on December 30 2017.
The Reds' response was emphatic. Within five minutes they were in front courtesy of Firmino's quickfire double.
Roberto Firmino of Liverpool scores his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield (Image: Getty Images)
The equaliser was a gift. Firmino and Salah sparked panic inside Arsenal's box and Stephan Lichtsteiner's clearance hit Shkodran Mustafi before dropping perfectly for the Brazilian to slot home with a trademark no-look finish.
There was nothing lucky about his second. Mane brilliantly won the ball off Lucas Torreira and Firmino flew into action.The Reds' No 9 slalomed his way past Mustafi and then Sokratis before calmly firing past Bernd Leno.
Once ahead, Liverpool never looked back. Gini Wijnaldum was outstanding in the middle of the park as he snapped into tackles and kick-started attacks.
Just past the half-hour mark it was 3-1. Arsenal nodded off after clearing Trent Alexander-Arnold's corner and paid the price.
Andy Robertson retrieved possession close to halfway and picked out Salah with a long diagonal pass. Liverpool's top scorer cleverly steered the ball back across goal and Mane guided it high into the net for his ninth of the season.
'Poetry in Motion' roared the jubilant Kop. It could have got even worse for the Gunners soon after with Granit Xhaka lucky to avoid a second yellow card after kicking the ball away.
The Reds were firmly in the ascendancy and in first-half stoppage time they bagged a fourth.
Having waited 14 months for one Premier League penalty at Anfield, they have now been given three in the space of four days. The first spot-kick of the night was earned by Salah and this time there was no debate.
Liverpool were indebted to the quick thinking of Alisson, whose kick picked out Firmino lurking close to halfway. He fed Salah and Sokratis senselessly upended him. Salah hammered it straight down the middle to pile on the misery.
The Reds' dominance was underlined by the fact that Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang touched the ball just seven times in the opening 45 minutes – four of them came from kick-offs.
The second half brought more of the same as Liverpool continued to torment the Gunners. Some of their neat, slick interplay around the box was a delight to watch.
It took a last-ditch sliding tackle from Sokratis to thwart Mane after a classy one-two with Shaqiri.
The little Swiss magician then played in Salah but much to his disgust his touch let him down.
The entertainment kept on coming but Liverpool didn't need the game to be so open. Klopp sought to tighten things up with the introduction of Henderson for Mane and reverting to 4-3-3.
It did the trick as the Reds' grip on proceedings tightened further. Fabinho latched on to a majestic flick from Salah but Leno tipped his effort behind.
Midway through the second half Firmino gleefully completed his treble from the spot after Lovren had been shoved over by Sead Kolasinac.
There were standing ovations for Wijnaldum and Robertson as Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne were given a run out.
It was party time late on with every pass cheered. 2018 was some ride – 2019 promises to be even better.
Liverpool: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson (Clyne 83), Fabinho, Wijnaldum (Lallana 78), Shaqiri, Firmino, Salah, Mane (Henderson 62).
Not used: Mignolet, Keita, Sturridge, Origi.
Arsenal: Leno, Lichtsteiner, Sokratis, Mustafi (Koscielny 45), Kolasinac (Guendouzi 81), Xhaka, Torreira, Ramsey, Maitland-Niles, Iwobi, Aubameyang (Lacazette 72).
Not used: Cech, Elneny, Willock, Saka
Referee: Michael Oliver
Goals: Maitland-Niles 11, Firmino 14, Firmino 16, Mane 32, Salah 45+1, Firmino 65
Bookings: Robertson, Xhaka
Man of the match: Roberto Firmino. The hat-trick hero was back to his brilliant best.
Copyright - Liverpool Echo
Liverpool player ratings vs Arsenal - Sensational Roberto Firmino and unreal Sadio Mane ensure ruthless win
The ratings as Liverpool beat Arsenal 5-1
By Ian Doyle Liverpool reporter
19:27, 29 DEC 2018Updated19:32, 29 DEC 2018
Alisson Becker 8
Early save from Iwobi, no chance with the Arsenal goal and headed one clear from outside the area. As for that pass to set Firmino free for the penalty for the fourth, oh my.
Trent Alexander-Arnold 7
Made some clearing headers at vital times, and Iwobi gave him one or two problems. Some iffy disribution, but improved as the game went on.
Virgil van Dijk 7
Out of position, whether by accident or design, on a surprising number of occasions but no real mistakes. Kept it simple after the break.
Dejan Lovren 7
His misdirected pass set in motion Arsenal's opener but was otherwise solid enough. Won the penalty for Firmino's hat-trick.
Andy Robertson 7
Given a real test by Maitland-Niles and was caught upfield for the Arsenal goal. But his long diagonal created the third, and didn't stop running. Booked.
A very difficult opening epitomised by the poor pass that gave Iwobi a chance. Better in the second half and a good Leno save denied him another goal.
Gini Wijnaldum 9
Great tackle on Ramsey to avoid conceding a first-half penalty and tidied up very well in front of the back four. Absolutely everywhere. An excellent display in a hectic midfield.
Xherdan Shaqiri 7
Flitted around the field in search of possession and was as much helping out with defensive duties as delivering probing passes. Good shift.
Roberto Firmino 9
Involved in the creation and finishing of the equaliser but if that was a bit lucky, his second was a work of pure artistry. Set up Salah for the first penalty and then scored the second for his first Liverpool hat-trick.
Sadio Mane 9
Really on his game in the knowledge he had the beating of Lichsteiner, he led the Liverpool press that suffocated the Arsenal defence and took his goal very well. Deserved ovation on substitution.
Mohamed Salah 8
The quietest of the Liverpool forwards but still produced the perfect assist for Mane and then won and scored the penalty for the fourth. Revelled in the extra space in the second half.
Jordan Henderson (for Mane 62) 7
Brought some composure as the second half threatened to become a bit too wild.
Adam Lallana (for Wijnaldum 78)
Did a Cruyff turn the moment he came on. What more do you want?
Nathaniel Clyne (for Robertson 84)
These brief appearances could prove crucial come the end of the season.