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Liverpool enhanced their Barclays Premier League title credentials with a stunning 5-1 home victory over leaders Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger's men came into this fixture having not lost a league game at Anfield since March 2007, but were ruthlessly exposed in a shocking opening 20 minutes.
Martin Skrtel was the scorer of Liverpool's first two goals, the centre-back twice converting Steven Gerrard set-pieces, before Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge found the net with Arsenal in disarray. There was no way back for the shell-shocked visitors and Sterling added his second early in the second half as Liverpool hit five against Arsenal for the first time in 50 years.
A Mikel Arteta penalty reduced Arsenal's arrears with 21 minutes remaining, but provided precious little in the way of consolation. Brendan Rodgers' men lie just five points behind the London club, who face a stiff task to bounce back from a first defeat since they were beaten 6-3 at Manchester City on December 14 in a similarly eventful match.
An unchanged Liverpool moved ahead inside the first minute, Skrtel converting a left-wing free-kick with his knee after Gerrard's inswinging delivery appeared to brush the boot of Arteta. Skrtel made a crucial clearance at the other end when Simon Mignolet charged from his goal, and then doubled his side's advantage in the 10th minute. After Jon Flanagan had been denied at the near post by Wojciech Szczesny, Skrtel met the resulting corner with a looping header that beat Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, stationed on the far post.
With Liverpool rampant, Sturridge sent a lobbed finish wide having been played through by Luis Suarez, who struck a post with a thunderous 25-yarder on the turn before Kolo Toure prodded the rebound wide with an open goal gaping.
Per Mertesacker headed wide from a corner, but Arsenal, who welcomed Jack Wilshere back from injury, remained second-best and fell further behind after 16 minutes. Mesut Ozil was dispossessed by Jordan Henderson and a swift break resulted in Suarez laying on a simple finish for Sterling.
A sublime through-ball from Philippe Coutinho provided Sturridge with another one-on-one four minutes later, and this time the England forward made no mistake, scoring for the seventh game in succession across all competitions.
Although Arsenal belatedly checked Liverpool's momentum, the hosts retained control and pulled further clear seven minutes after the break. Sterling was given time to cut in from the left and scored at the second attempt after his initial strike had been kept out by Szczesny.
Wilshere was booked for a foul on Sterling that summed up Arsenal's frustration before Wenger made a triple change in the 61st minute, introducing Kieran Gibbs, Tomas Rosicky and Lukas Podolski. Arteta pulled one back from the penalty spot after Gerrard had brought down Oxlade-Chamberlain, and also tested Mignolet with a low free-kick, but by then the game was effectively over as a contest.
Sturridge, Gerrard and Suarez were all substituted to sum up Liverpool's dominance, while Sterling spurned a chance to complete his hat-trick in the closing stages.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers: "We were brilliant, it was a wonderful performance in such a prestigious game. Not just the result but the performance level was absolutely out of this world.
"I'm very pleased and it's another marker for us that we're getting better and improving all the time. We're just trying to finish as high as we possibly can. For us, this year was hopefully going to be another big step for our development.
"The players have been incredible and we just hope to continue that development and see where it takes us. It's a very young side, but (they have) a wonderful appetite for the game and a wonderful ability to learn.
"They want to learn; they want to progress and you can see as time goes on that idea for us to press well and pass well, and that was key for us today. We do a lot of work on our pressing - I always feel that if we press well we can pass well.
"These games are normally very tight games, but I feel we could have gone on and scored more. I was really pleased with how we managed the game. At 4-0, the crowd are so excited and were wanting us to go for the throat, but it's important we can manage the game as well and that was a really pleasing aspect.
"Raheem Sterling was incredible. He's just turned 19 years of age and I don't think there's a better winger in England at this moment in time. He was absolutely phenomenal."
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: "Congratulations to Liverpool - they were the better team and we were very poor. We conceded two early goals on set-pieces and then you're in a position when you've always [got] to come out.
"Only our fans were good for 90 minutes, that's all. We are, of course, very disappointed, but as well [we will] not lose our confidence and our belief that we can still do it [win the league].
"What is important is that we respond to that result, and especially that we respond with a different performance because our performance was poor. The whole team failed to turn up with the right performance.
"It's not about what people say; it's how we respond that matters. I can completely understand that people will, of course, raise questions, but the only way to answer that is on Wednesday night.
"It's always what you make of defeats that decides your future and we have a lot of answers to find."
|12 Feb 2014||v Fulham (A)|
|23 Feb 2014||v Swansea (H)|
|01 Mar 2014||v Southampton (A)|
|16 Mar 2014||v Man Utd (A)|
|22 Mar 2014||v Cardiff (A)|
|26 Mar 2014||v Sunderland (H)|