Liverpool thrust themselves firmly back into the battle for a place in the Premier League’s top four as they outclassed abject Arsenal at Emirates Stadium.
Chelsea’s shock thrashing at home to West Brom earlier in the day opened the door for Liverpool – and Jurgen Klopp’s men burst straight through it in style with a victory that leaves them in fifth, only two points behind Thomas Tuchel’s side.
The only surprise was that it took dominant Liverpool so long to make their superiority count.
They finally got the breakthrough they deserved after 64 minutes when Diogo Jota headed Trent Alexander-Arnold’s brilliant delivery past Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno moments after he replaced Andy Robertson.
It was not only the decisive moment of the contest but also a timely reminder of the quality Alexander-Arnold possesses at a time when England manager Gareth Southgate feels he can do without him.
Liverpool doubled their lead four minutes later when Mohamed Salah took advantage of poor defending by Arsenal’s Gabriel then slid a cool finish through Leno’s legs.
Jota was the beneficiary of more good work from Alexander-Arnold when he slammed home his second from close range with eight minutes left – by then, though, the game had become a formality.
Klopp said Liverpool “have to show we are really fighting for it” when asked about getting back in the running for a Champions League place.
“It was a very important statement. In our position it is clear, everything that has happened to us this season means we don’t have it in our hands,” he added.
“We have to win our games and others have to lose but we have to [put] pressure on them. That is what we did with the result but we are still not in. We have to fight and we will fight and that is the statement for us and nobody else.”
England manager Southgate’s exclusion of Alexander-Arnold for the opening World Cup qualifiers shocked Klopp – and the defender’s performance in north London showed why.
Southgate currently prefers Chelsea’s 21-year-old Reece James, who he seems to regard as the more complete defensive and attacking package, Manchester City’s Kyle Walker and Atletico Madrid’s Kieran Trippier, believing Alexander-Arnold needs to improve his club form to merit inclusion amid a relatively indifferent season for the Premier League champions as a team.
Klopp is clearly satisfied with Alexander-Arnold, though, and that is hardly surprising after the right-back showed what a threat he offers as Liverpool overpowered Arsenal.
He showcased his sublime delivery for Jota’s opener then demonstrated his energy and awareness to steal back possession high up the pitch in the build-up to the prolific Portugal forward’s second goal.
Klopp said afterwards he did not want to “make another discussion” but added that “Alexander-Arnold had showed his class again”.
“If somebody says Trent is not [in good shape] then I have to say they are wrong, that is all. I am not responsible for [Southgate’s] decisions,” Klopp added.
It was a display that responded to Southgate’s decision to drop him in the perfect manner and suggested England must have serious quality at right-back if Alexander-Arnold is in serious danger of missing Euro 2020.
Liverpool and Klopp had a hugely satisfying night all round. Brazil’s Fabinho gave a masterclass in the midfield anchor role, demonstrating what the side missed when he was deputising in central defence to cover for injuries to Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip.
Klopp’s side may be in a miserable run of six successive home defeats but their away form is sustaining them and this comfortable three points, on the back of the previous victory at Wolves, gives them real hope of Champions League qualification.
With a Champions League quarter-final first leg away to Real Madrid on Tuesday, Liverpool suddenly look like a team with renewed purpose and momentum.
The only positive about this Arsenal performance was the fact they kept Liverpool out for 64 minutes – although that was more down to the Premier League champions’ lack of cutting edge up than especially good work by the Gunners.
The hosts were dreadful and fortunate not to be beaten far more heavily. This was miserable stuff from Arsenal.
The only work Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson, complete with extravagant new moustache, had to do all night was clutch a straightforward shot from substitute Cedric Soares in the second half.
Yes, Arsenal lost influential left-back Kieran Tierney right on half-time, but that was no excuse for what Mikel Arteta’s side served up. They offered no punch in attack, no fight in midfield and were eventually overwhelmed in defence.
Arsenal saved themselves by coming from three goals down to earn a point in their last league game at West Ham but there was never the slightest hope of a comeback against Liverpool.
They sit in ninth place, four points adrift of Everton having played two games more, and much now rests on their Europa League quarter-final against Slavia Prague.
They will have to produce much better than they did here, their night summed up by the anonymous performance of main striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who spent much of his game as an auxiliary left-back before being substituted.