London: Liverpool re-energised their Premier League title challenge with a magnificent 5-1 rout of sorry leaders Arsenal on an afternoon of one-way traffic at Anfield on Saturday.
Brendan Rodgers’s rampant side struck four times in the first 20 minutes, as Arsenal saw a run of 10 games without defeat in all competitions torn to shreds in brutal fashion.
Martin Skrtel scored twice in 10 minutes to spark the rout, with Raheem Sterling claiming a brace and Daniel Sturridge also finding the net before Mikel Arteta replied for Arsene Wenger’s humbled Arsenal.
The one-sided victory lifted fourth-place Liverpool to within five points of Arsenal, a week before the sides are due to meet again at the Emirates Stadium in the fifth round of the FA Cup.
Liverpool’s performance, meanwhile, suggested that they cannot be discounted from the title picture despite media projections of a three-horse race between Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City.
Seeking to return to winning ways after a 1-1 draw at West Bromwich Albion last weekend, Liverpool went ahead inside a minute when Skrtel kneed Steven Gerrard’s free-kick past Wojciech Szczesny from close range.
The same combination doubled Liverpool’s lead in the 10th minute, with Skrtel stooping to guide a looping header into the top-left corner from Gerrard’s right-wing corner.
Sturridge lobbed wide and Luis Suarez hit the post with a blistering half-volley from outside the box before Sterling tucked in a low cross from Suarez to make it 3-0.
The fourth arrived in the 20th minute, Sturridge steering the ball past Szczesny from Philippe Coutinho’s delicately weighted pass as Arsenal’s travelling fans looked on in disbelieving horror.
Sterling scored at the second attempt in the 52nd minute to tighten the screw yet further, before Arteta netted from the penalty spot in the 69th minute after Gerrard was penalised for felling Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Sturridge told reporters afterwards: “We went out there and did what the manager told us. The first 20 minutes were unbelievable and it’s about the team. We worked as a team and we are getting results.
“It starts form the back and the boys have been excellent. Martin Skrtel got two goals and Raheem Sterling two and got a well-earned man of the match for all the hard work he has put in.”
Before the match, Liverpool boss Rodgers said he believes he emerged from Arsenal’s pursuit of Luis Suarez as ‘a better manager’ and is determined to prove it by leading Liverpool into the Champions League.
Back in the summer, Rodgers had to handle the pressured situation of his star player angling for a move away and it would have been difficult to envisage Liverpool challenging for a top-four place had Suarez got his way.
Though the experience was filled with tension —Suarez was banished to train on his own at one stage — Rodgers has no regrets and feels he is now more complete in his role.
“I think it made me a better manager,” said Rodgers. “You don’t get these scenarios when you’re doing your coaching courses. Man-management is a vital part of the job. You always have to respect players but hopefully you can find common ground with the great players we have.
“With Luis, I always knew that once we’d ended the speculation with him it would be fine. I’ve never known a player like him in training.”
Meanwhile, Arsenal’s dejection could have been compounded later on Saturday as both Manchester City and Chelsea could overtake them if they won their respective matches.
Chelsea, who won 1-0 at City on Monday, host Newcastle United, while City visit Norwich City.
In the late game, meanwhile, Swansea City were due to tackle local rivals Cardiff City in their first match since Michael Laudrup was sacked as manager.
English Premier League
Liverpool 5 Arsenal 1
Aston Villa vs West Ham
Chelsea vs Newcastle United
Crystal Palace vs West Brom
Norwich City vs Manchester City
Southampton vs Stoke City
Sunderland vs Hull City
Swansea City vs Cardiff City, 9.30pm
Tottenham Hotspur vs Everton, 5.30pm
Manchester United vs Fulham, 8pm