Liverpool have demonstrated that their Premier League title credentials are alive and kicking with a stunning 5-1 demolition of leaders Arsenal at Anfield.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers had claimed during the week that the best his side could hope for was a top-four finish, but the claim rang hollow after the hosts scored four times in the first 20 minutes against Arsene Wenger’s shellshocked Arsenal.
The opening goal, after 51 seconds on Saturday, set the tone for a half of complete Liverpool domination, with Martin Skrtel scoring twice and Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge also finding the net to raise serious questions about Arsenal’s own ability to win the league.
The opening minute saw Per Mertesacker haul back Luis Suarez to concede a free-kick that Steven Gerrard curled menacingly into the six-yard area, where Skrtel volleyed past Wojciech Szczesny with his knee.
That electrifying start had the passionate Anfield crowd in fine voice and Arsenal looking increasingly baffled and on the back foot, especially when Sturridge tested Szczesny with a couple of low shots.
After 10 minutes the lead was doubled, with another set-piece exposing the glaring deficiencies in the Arsenal defence.
Gerrard’s right-wing corner was met by the unmarked Skrtel, who placed a perfect glancing header over the leaping Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and into the top-left corner.
It should have been three moments later when Philippe Coutinho and Suarez combined intelligently to send Sturridge clean through on goal, only for the usually efficient striker to chip wide with just the goalkeeper to beat.
Then Suarez latched onto a clever Gerrard corner and connected with a thunderous 20-yard half-volley that crashed against the Arsenal post.
Mertesacker headed just wide from a Santi Cazorla corner as the Gunners momentarily threatened, but the game was effectively over as a contest as early as the 16th minute when Sterling made if 3-0.
The ineffective Mesut Ozil was bullied off the ball in midfield by Jordan Henderson, who sent Suarez sprinting down the right wing.
The Uruguayan, Arsenal’s primary transfer target of the last close season, produced the perfect cross for Sterling to convert from six yards.
If Wenger thought his side had struck rock-bottom, he was to be proved wrong three minutes later when Coutinho’s through ball played Sturridge clear of the Arsenal back line and the striker kept his calm to bend the ball past Szczesny.
Suarez, just before the interval, and Sturridge, just after it, threatened to add to the rout, but any suggestion that Liverpool would settle for their four-goal lead was removed in the 52nd minute.
Kolo Toure’s lobbed pass sent Sterling clean through on goal and the winger converted at the second attempt after Szczesny had blocked his initial effort.
Sterling should have completed his hat-trick three minutes later, but he failed to turn in Gerrard’s free-kick, while a magnificent 25-yard free-kick from Suarez was flying into the top corner until Szczesny made a superb save.
Gerrard’s trip on Oxlade-Chamberlain finally allowed Arsenal to put themselves on the scoreboard as Mikel Arteta successfully converted a 69th-minute penalty, before forcing Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet into a fine save soon afterwards.
Liverpool might have won even more handsomely, however, with Coutinho and the irrepressible Sterling both going close in the final stages.