Two goals apiece from Martin Skrtel and Raheem Sterling, and another composed finish from Daniel Sturridge, handed Liverpool a 5-1 trouncing of Arsenal in the Premier League at Anfield on Saturday.
A ferocious performance from Brendan Rodgers’ squad started perfectly as Skrtel’s header gave them a lead within the first minute. He followed up with a brilliant header from a Steven Gerrard corner to double the Reds’ lead at 10 minutes.
Raheem Sterling then found himself on the end of a flowing Liverpool move and on the scoresheet, before Daniel Sturridge latched onto a glorious through-ball from Philippe Coutinho to score the hosts’ fourth.
After Sterling got himself a second—and Liverpool a fifth—Gerrard’s challenge on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain earned Arsenal a consolation penalty, with Gunners captain Mikel Arteta scoring from 12 yards.
Here are six things we learned from Liverpool’s demolition of Arsenal on Saturday. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
The Curious Case of Liverpool’s Set Pieces
There were two set pieces within the first 10 minutes for Liverpool, and two goals, both created by Gerrard and scored by Skrtel.
So continues the curious case of Liverpool’s set pieces. How can a side known for being weak at defending set pieces be so prolific at scoring from them?
With 22 already notched, Liverpool have now scored more goals from set pieces (including penalties) than any other Premier League side this season (as of the end of the match). More than a third of the Reds’ 63 league goals this season have come from set pieces.
By contrast, they have conceded seven goals from set pieces, approaching a fourth of their 30 goals against, and that’s not counting penalties.
Week by week, Steven Gerrard continues to provide strong evidence that he is the Premier League’s finest set piece taker; today’s two assists today won’t have done that reputation any harm.
Raheem Sterling Continues His Rise to Prominence
Once in a while, a performance comes along that makes everyone stand up and take note of a new player coming of age. On Saturday, that was Raheem Sterling.
Sure, he got himself two goals, the first well taken and the second after a fortuitous parry from Wojciech Szczesny right back to him, but it wasn’t just about the double haul.
Not only did Sterling get into fantastic positions on the counterattack, but he didn’t for a second neglect his defensive duties and proved to be an important outlet on Liverpool’s flanks.
It was clear even from his first few months in English football that Sterling had more than just pace and dribbling about him, but since reestablishing himself in Brendan Rodgers’ team in December, he’s developed his footballing intelligence and taken more responsibility on the pitch.
To firmly establish himself as one of the best wingers in the Premier League, Sterling needs to further work on his finishing, to ensure that he gets the rewards from his excellent attacking play.
But will Feb. 8, 2014 prove to be the making of Raheem Sterling? Only time will tell, but his improvement so far suggests that he still has a long way to go yet.
Press the Midfield Like Your Lives Depend on It
Saturday’s trouncing was all the more surprising, considering that Liverpool were quite comprehensively outplayed in November at the Emirates Stadium.
Skrtel’s early goal definitely made a difference, as it meant Arsenal had to chase the game right from the beginning, but the way the home side approached the match also had a telling influence on the outcome.
Whereas Aaron Ramsey powered his way through the Reds midfield time and again in November, this time Liverpool never allowed Arsenal to enjoy any time on the ball, as the entire midfield set about a frantic and relentless pressing game that forced errors and back passes from the Gunners’ midfield.
Jordan Henderson put in another famous workhorse shift, but it wasn’t just him: Luis Suarez defended from the front, Philippe Coutinho belied his slight frame with a performance of power and pace, and Sterling’s defensive work arguably outshone his attacking contributions.
This was Brendan Rodgers’ midfield blueprint blossoming on the pitch.
Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta Are Not a Title-Winning Midfield
With Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey both out of contention for Saturday’s clash, Arsenal’s midfield lacked bite, steel and energy.
Jack Wilshere was more petulant than probing, while Mikel Arteta’s lack of acceleration and pace on the turn proved an Achilles’ heel against the high-energy pressing game that the Liverpool midfield adopted.
With Wilshere showing his frustration via a few cynical fouls and failing to assert himself on a big stage, he showed that while he has the tools to become a great player, he still has a ways to mature and develop his mental game.
Ramsey has scored eight goals and provided six assists this season, contributing to almost 30 percent of Arsenal’s total league goal haul, and has been a big miss for Arsene Wenger’s side.
On Saturday, it was a fellow homegrown talent, Jordan Henderson, along with the previous holder of the “best box-to-box midfielder in the league” tag, Steven Gerrard, who formed the crux of a dominant midfield.
When Liverpool Are on Song, They Are Frighteningly Good
In 13 home games this season, Liverpool have scored 38 Premier League goals, almost an average of three per game—and that’s including a draw and a loss.
They’ve scored four or more goals in eight league matches out of their 25 already played this season. Including a 5-0 rout and 4-0 Merseyside derby demolition of fellow top-four challengers Tottenham Hotspur and Everton, and now a 5-1 trouncing of a title hopeful.
In Luis Suarez (23 goals) and Daniel Sturridge (15), the Reds have the two highest-scoring players in the league. (Sturridge is tied with Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero.)
Simply put: When Liverpool are on song, they are frighteningly good. When the players carry out Rodgers’ pressing plans and passing game to perfection, Liverpool take some stopping.
Besides the aesthetically pleasing controlling approach that they are still perfecting game by game, they have now added the set piece and the counterattack to their arsenal.
What happens when they shore up their defence and boost their midfield?
Underdog Tag Suits Liverpool Perfectly
While Liverpool are now painted as favorites to finish in the top four, they still entered Saturday’s clash perhaps as underdogs considering the quality of their opposition.
Given the comprehensive manner of Arsenal’s defeat, just as they did after the Gunners’ loss to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season, the attention may focus squarely on the weaknesses of Arsene Wenger’s team and how they may fail to win the title after all, leaving the spotlight firmly away from Liverpool.
That will suit Brendan Rodgers’ side just fine.
Liverpool have historically outperformed expectations when classed as underdogs—and given Manchester City’s draw at Norwich City this weekend, suddenly the Reds are just four points off third place.
That will probably slip under the radar for a few weeks yet, as the discussions revolve around Arsenal and City’s dips and Chelsea’s rise to the Premier League summit.
But if Liverpool keep plugging away and also winning those matches they’re favorites in, who knows what’s in store come May?
This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.