Liverpool moved further clear at the top of the Premier League with a thrilling 5-1 victory over Arsenal on Saturday evening.
In the Reds’ final outing of 2018, they brushed off the concession of an 11th-minute goal to storm into an unassailable lead by half-time through Roberto Firmino’s double and strikes from Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
And it was left to Firmino to add the final flourish with his hat-trick goal from the penalty spot in the second half.
They started the game brightly, passing the ball about confidently and nipping into challenges – although there was a warning of what was to come when Mo Salah hit the side netting.
But they continued to come forward and in the 11th minute they temporarily silenced Anfield as they scored a goal borne out of Hale End as the lively Alex Iwobi delivered a lovely ball across the box for Ainsley Maitland-Niles to convert at the far post.
It was the 21-year-old’s first goal ffor the Gunners, but within three minutes the game had been turned completely on as Roberto Firmino scored twice.
The first was unlucky as a couple of ricochets in the box saw the ball fall at the feet of the Brazilian, but the second would have infuriated Unai Emery as the forward pounced on a loose pass before strolling past two defenders and slotting home.
Despite this, we worked hard to get back into the game with Iwobi and Maitland-Niles getting some joy down the flanks, but the hosts’ third goal was a knockout blow as Salah beat a misjudged offside trap and squared for Sadio Mane to slot home.
It was tough to take, and things got worse on the stroke of half time as Salah beat Sokratis in the box before going down under a challenge from the Greek defender. Penalty, and the Liverpool forward made no mistake from the spot.
It was a long way back in the second half and both Salah and Mane had chances straight after the restart, while Aaron Ramsey threatened at the other end.
Bernd Leno was soon called into action to save from Firmino, and then from Fabinho as the hosts looked to add further gloss to the scoreline – and they soon had it as Sead Kolasinac was penalised for a push and Firmino completed his hat-trick from the spot.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Firmino had scored six goals this season before Arsenal’s visit but none in the league at Anfield, with his last in the division on home soil coming back in April.
But all that changed in exactly 90 breathless first-half seconds.
The Reds, trailing to Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ opener, shrugged off only their eighth concession of the Premier League campaign to seize control through a Firmino double.
If the first came through a huge slice of luck as the No.9 pounced on an unfortunate Gunners clearance with yet another no-look tap-in, the second was a thing of pristine beauty.
Firmino coolly stepped around and through a series of challenges at the edge of the box before planting a clinical left-footed finish past Bernd Leno to overturn Liverpool’s deficit in the blink of an eye.
And, with Salah handing over spot-kick duties in the second half, the 27-year-old sealed a sublime treble in front of the Kop.
The Brazilian has made a habit of punishing Arsenal since joining the club – only Robbie Fowler (nine) has scored more against them for Liverpool in the Premier League than Firmino (eight).
The Reds’ success over the Gunners means Jürgen Klopp’s men end 2018 with a points-per-match total of 2.38 in the Premier League across the calendar year.
That tally is the highest in club history.
The result also extended Liverpool’s unbeaten streak in the league at Anfield to 31 games – since a defeat by Crystal Palace in April 2017.
The Reds have completed a 20-game run without a loss since the beginning of the season for only the third time and the first in 30 years.
Mo’s momentum continues
Having scored and assisted against Newcastle United earlier this week, Salah achieved that double once more, creating the third for Mane before winning and converting a penalty for Liverpool’s fourth strike in first-half stoppage-time.
It was the 10th time the Egypt international has recorded a goal and assist in the same Premier League game since the start of last season – only Neymar (11) can better that tally in Europe’s top five leagues.
Salah – who concludes 2018 with 28 goals for his club in 35 league appearances in the calendar year – is now level with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Harry Kane at the top of the division’s scoring chart with 13.