ALL of a sudden, Liverpool are starting to look like Liverpool again.
They pressed like Liverpool, bullied like Liverpool, dominated like Liverpool and, eventually scored like Liverpool.
Arsenal? Well they were an all-too-familiar Arsenal – timid, lazy, shoddy, hopeless.
But suddenly the door to Champions League qualification has swung open for the fallen champions.
Diogo Jota’s double and another from Mo Salah fired Jurgen Klopp’s men to within two points of fourth-placed Chelsea, as Arsenal side surrendered pitifully.
If only Liverpool could play away from home every week – and preferably in London – they would romp into the top four.
Despite six straight defeats at Anfield, Liverpool have now won four of their last five away matches and five out of six in the capital this season.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, on his first appearance since being axed from the England squad, teed up the opener for Jota, three minutes after the former Wolves man arrived as a sub.
Then Salah embarrassed Bernd Leno with a nutmeg for the second – and
Gunners boss Mikel Arteta dragged off his peripheral skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whose sauntering performance set the example for his team.
Arsenal’s attitude stank – they never even tested Liverpool’s makeshift central defence and their own back four crumbled in the last half-hour.
And the Gunners gifted the third goal, finished off by Jota as they made a suicidal attempt to play ot out from the back, in the face of Liverpool’s high press – which was like trying to light a cigarette in a hurricane.
Liverpool will surely get a sterner test when they visit Real Madrid in the Bernabeu on Tuesday night in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.
But there will certainly be no inferiority complex about Klopp’s men after this.
Chelsea’s shock walloping by West Brom had been a game-changer in the race for the top four – it moved Liverpool’s hopes from slim to genuine and Arsenal’s chances from impossible to slim.
But by the final whistle, Arsenal were out of the picture again, stuck in mid-table where they belong.
And Liverpool are right in the thick of – eyeing Chelsea, perhaps even Leicester – along with the rest of the chasing pack, West Ham, Tottenham and Everton.
Liverpool, in an away kit inspired by early-90s Scouse shell-suit chic, were in charge from the off – James Milner and Fabinho both drilling shots narrowly wide.
Alex Lacazette was left with blood gushing from a facial wound after a skirmish with Nat Phillips – Klopp going potty about the free-kick award, until he noticed the claret stuff streaming down the Frenchman’s face.
But Liverpool’s energy and passing were far superior to Arsenal’s, without the fallen champions being able to create anything glaring.
They were pressing Arsenal high up the pitch, with Dani Ceballos particularly prone to being dispossessed.
An Allison clearance set up a bit of retro Firmino-Mane-Salah interplay, yet Gabriel snuffed out the danger.
Then Milner won a tackle and Firmino pinged one wide of the far post.
Klopp, like most of a Liverpool persuasion, had been seething about Alexander-Arnold’s axing by Gareth Southgate.
And the right-back was full of endeavour in attack, picking out Milner only for the clearest opening so far, only for the veteran to screw his shot wide.
A miserable first half from Arsenal was capped off by their form-horse left-back Kieran Tierney being forced off before the break, following a clash with Milner, and replaced by Cedric Soares.
Arsenal were still struggling to get out of their own half – second to every challenge but Liverpool continually breaking down in the final third.
Mo Elneny arrived in place of Ceballos, in the apparent hope that Arsenal might start winning a few tackles.
Klopp was doing his conkers at Lacazette’s primal screaming which won a free-kick.
And the Liverpool boss then set his sat nav for the Arsenal jugular – sending on Diogo Jota for Andy Robertson, moving Milner to left-back.
After an actual shot from Arsenal – Cedric forcing Allison into an actual save – Jota struck.
Alexander-Arnold gave it some serious whippage with the shot and Jota leapt for a skyscraping header which thudded into the net.
The second goal was ugly from an Arsenal point of view, Fabinho’s ball over the top feeding Salah, who took advantage of a shoddy attempt at a challenge from Gabriel and nutmegged Bernd Leno at his near post.
Jota thumped home the third as Arsenal made a shocking attempt to play it out from the back.
Alexander-Arnold won possession and Mane combined with Salah to set up Jota for an emphatic finish.
Three-nil did not even do justice to Liverpool’s domination.
Arsenal are a shambles. The faith they are showing in Arteta – a rookie manager who is taking the club backwards – is really quite astonishing.
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