Home team scorers Roberto Firmino 9 Sadio Mane 40 Georginio Wijnaldum 90 +0:44
Away team scorers Danny Welbeck 57
Liverpool extended their impressive record against top six teams this season by completing a double over Arsenal, leapfrogging the Gunners and moving above Manchester City into third place as a result.
Just about the last thing you need when dropping Alexis Sánchez to the bench to make a point is to simultaneously drop out of the Champions League positions, and though Arsène Wenger had his head in his hands at various points in a lacklustre display he probably owes Eddie Howe a pint for doing him a favour at Old Trafford.
But for Bournemouth holding Manchester United to a draw Arsenal would have woke up on Sunday morning in sixth.
The intensity that went missing in the defeat at the King Power stadium was back in evidence at Anfield, although it could simply be that Liverpool found these opponents more accommodating than Leicester. The home side could only have been encouraged to discover Alexis Sánchez would not be starting and Mesut Özil was not even in the squad, and without that pair Arsenal looked a little laboured going forward. Liverpool did not, and were ahead inside nine minutes.
Adam Lallana played Sadio Mané into space on the right, and when the cross came in Philippe Coutinho allowed it to reach the unmarked Roberto Firmino at the far post, who had time to take a touch before lashing a shot into the roof of Petr Cech’s net.
If conceding early asked a question of Arsenal, they struggled to answer it for the next half hour. With Coutinho and Lallana working hard to prevent the visitors building from the back Olivier Giroud and Alex Iwobi were isolated up front and too easily contained, so much so that when Granit Xhaka strode from midfield to waft a speculative effort from distance high into the Kop, the travelling fans in the Anfield Road end could be heard rejoicing that their side had had a shot.
By that stage Liverpool had managed another attempt on target, Cech’s fingertips diverting a shot from Coutinho over the angle of post and bar, and it was clear Arsenal were having difficulty dealing with the pace and invention of Mané and Firminho. “We have shown we can work harder than our opponents,” Jürgen Klopp claimed in his programme notes, presumably to fire up his own players rather than make a point about the opposition’s elegant shirkers.
Liverpool’s unselfish work ethic could be seen when they added a second goal before the interval, with James Milner holding up the ball on the left until Georginio Wijnaldum and Firmino arrived to help, each one transferring the ball across the edge of the area until Arsenal’s cover ran out and Firmino’s pass found Mané entirely in space. The winger needed no further invitation than a clear sight of goal to bury a shot into Cech’s bottom corner, and although a two goal half-time lead was a fair indication of Liverpool’s superiority, Arsenal were actually lucky not to turn round three goals in arrears. Coutinho missed the best opportunity of the half right on the stroke of the interval, when he did well to bring down a ball from the air and hold of Shkodran Mustafi near the penalty spot, only to shank his shot into the arms of a grateful Cech when there was only the goalkeeper left to beat.
To no one’s surprise Sánchez came on for the second half, and Arsenal immediately looked better. Nacho Monreal sent over a cross from the left and Giroud predictably got his header on target, though Simon Mignolet was able to get a hand to it and push the ball on to the cross bar. Just before the hour the substitute himself took a hand, proving a point of his own when sliding a perfectly weighted pass for Danny Welbeck to run on to and pull a goal back. The goal still took some scoring, and possibly Mignolet got his angles wrong, but Welbeck is adept at making the most of unpromising half chances and he managed to squeeze a shot between goalkeeper and post.
That livened up the contest no end, and though Mustafi had to make a goalmouth clearance from Coutinho’s low cross Arsenal were also beginning to show a greater attacking threat. A strong run by Sánchez was only ended by a challenge that resulted in a booking for Emre Can, before Coutinho shot too high following a sequence of short passes on the edge of the Arsenal area then provided a cross with a free-kick from which Joel Matip should have done much better. Can was lucky to escape a second yellow for a reckless challenge on Theo Walcott, a decision that incensed Granit Xhaka so much the Arsenal man ended up in the book, while at the other end Divock Origi came on and struck a post with a header from Milner’s free-kick.
Liverpool were not exactly hanging on at the end, but they did find themselves having to deal with Arsenal pressure, which was not a scenario anyone had envisaged at the interval. Yet just as stoppage time was shaping up to be interesting Liverpool killed the game with a clinical strike, even if Origi looked fractionally offside in the build up. Lallana did well in the centre to hold the ball and delay his pass, before sending Origi up the right for a cross that Wijnaldum met with a sweet first time finish. There could be no arguing with the scoreline, though equally no knowing what Arsenal might have achieved had they fielded their strongest side from the start.