Liverpool opened up a three-point gap at the top of the Premier League with a 3-1 win over Arsenal which highlighted why the chasing pack are still so far behind them and Manchester City.
By their own admission Jurgen Klopp’s side had not been close to finding their best form in four matches this season but faced with the top flight’s only other team with a 100 per cent record, they stepped up a couple of gears.
As if to make a statement they dismantled the Gunners, who arrived at Anfield with a containment-first approach, with a power game allied to clinical efficiency.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) August 24, 2019
Mohamed Salah, with a penalty and a superbly-taken individual effort, made it three for the campaign after Joel Matip’s first league goal in 11 months broke the deadlock just before half-time, with substitute Lucas Torreira scoring a consolation five minutes from the end.
The game started at a frenetic pace, with the hosts setting a high tempo which penned Arsenal back in the final third. Within 80 seconds Andy Robertson had fizzed a ball across the six-yard area which Roberto Firmino only narrowly missed.
Unai Emery’s tactics were to defend deep with eight men behind the ball in an attempt to draw their opponents in before trying to release the explosive pace of £72million summer signing Nicolas Pepe, given a full debut at the expense of Alexandre Lacazette.
However, a flaw in the plan was that the Gunners never looked comfortable in possession in and around their own penalty area and regularly fell foul of Liverpool’s high press.
The worst example was when Dani Ceballos, pinned in near his own corner flag, cleared the ball straight to Sadio Mane 15 yards out only for the Senegal international to shoot straight at Bernd Leno.
But the more Liverpool pressed the more Arsenal were presented with opportunities, with Pepe having three chances and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang one.
Reds goalkeeper Adrian, fresh from his miskicking error which cost them a goal at Southampton last week, came out of his area to clear but only found Aubameyang who lobbed the ball back past the far post.
Pepe’s best chance came when Jordan Henderson’s mistake on the halfway line allowed the Ivory Coast international to run past Robertson but in a one-one-one with Adrian he shot straight at the goalkeeper.
It meant the game was far more open than the statistics of Liverpool’s supposed dominance – they had 14 shots in the first half – suggested.
But the incessant pressure on Arsenal’s defence began to tell and after Salah held off Granit Xhaka to cleverly turn and fire wide, the breakthough came.
From a corner Trent Alexander-Arnold finally found his range and Matip benefited from the space created by Virgil Van Dijk’s tangle with Matteo Guendouzi to power home a 41st-minute header.
Mane should have done better with his header in injury time but if the interval was a period for Arsenal to clear their heads, no-one told David Luiz who, in a moment of madness four minutes after the break, tugged on Salah’s shirt.
The Egypt international confidently dispatched the penalty and added a second by brilliantly converting a three-pass move which eliminated most of the opposition.
Started by Adrian to Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho then flicked forward an inviting ball allowing Salah to skip past Luiz with embarrassing ease 40 yards out and run into the penalty area before cushioning a shot inside the far post with his left foot.
From that point it was an exercise in damage-limitation for the visitors, with Emery’s first change being to send on combative midfielder Torreira for the anonymous playmaker Ceballos.
Lacazette, scorer of 19 goals last season and one in one match this, was not introduced until the 81st minute – and even then it was Torreira who eventually found the net, drilling home a loose ball 15 yards out.