Liverpool crushed Premier League leaders Arsenal 5-1 with a stunning display of attacking football at Anfield on Saturday that revived their title hopes and raised doubts about the visitors’ championship credentials.
The first four goals came in an astonishing first 20 minutes as Liverpool ripped a disorganised Arsenal side to shreds, turning what has long been regarded as a three-horse title race into a four-way battle with Liverpool back in the hunt.
Arsenal had only conceded four goals in their last eight league matches, in which they were unbeaten, before Liverpool went on the rampage with two early goals from Martin Skrtel, a Raheem Sterling double and one from Daniel Sturridge.
For once Liverpool’s leading scorer Luis Suarez did not find the net, coming closest to a goal with a powerful long-range shot that smashed against a post.
The victory lifted Liverpool to 50 points with 13 matches left to play, five points behind Arsenal and three behind Manchester City and Chelsea who are in action later on Saturday at Norwich City and at home to Newcsatle United respectively.
The only bright spot for the shell-shocked Gunners came when Spaniard Mikel Arteta scored with a 69th minute penalty.
Despite the emphatic win and Liverpool’s total dominance, which led bookmakers to cut the Merseyside club’s title odds from 25-1 to 12-1, coach Brendan Rodgers played down any talk of winning the league.
“Everything about our game was incredible today, it was an amazing performance against an outstanding team. To be fair, the title has not been a target, but we are improving and everything we did today was outstanding,” he told BT Sport.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger cut a forlorn figure at the end and admitted: “It was a very poor day. We were poor defensively and offensively and Liverpool played very well and we have to bounce back from that as quickly as possible.
“Of course, it raises some questions today because we were caught many times and were naive.”
It took Liverpool less than a minute to open the scoring when their Slovakia central defender Skrtel took advantage of a deflection from a Steven Gerrard freekick and kneed the ball past Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
It was Liverpool’s 22nd goal from a set-piece this season, and 10 minutes later Skrtel doubled their lead with a well-directed backward glancing header that looped past the Polish keeper to make it 2-0.
Before the match Wenger said the “defensive stability” of his side would keep them in the hunt for honours - having not won any silverware since 2005 - but his back line were torn to shreds as Liverpool then scored twice more in four minutes.
Sterling made it 3-0 with a tap-in following a superb run and cross from Suarez after 17 minutes and went 4-0 up after 20 minutes when Philippe Coutinho left defender Laurent Koscielny floundering, allowing Sturridge to pick his spot.
Liverpool soaked up what little threat Arsenal posed before striking again to make it 5-0 after 52 minutes when Sterling got his second goal of the match by firing home a rebound after Szczesny had saved his first attempt.
Arsenal pulled one back when Arteta scored from the spot after Gerrard mistimed a tackle on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain,
Arsenal will have a quick chance of avenging their first league defeat at Anfield since 2007 when the two sides meet in an FA Cup fifth round tie at the Emirates next weekend.
The London side first face Manchester United in the league at home on Wednesday when Liverpool travel to lowly Fulham and not even Rodgers could dismiss their title hopes if they were to win on Wednesday and Arsenal lose again.