LIVERPOOL, United Kingdom, Dec 28 – Liverpool roared back from a rare Anfield deficit to move nine points clear at the top of the Premier League as Roberto Firmino’s hat-trick inspired a 5-1 thrashing of Arsenal on Saturday.
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane were also on target as Liverpool’s front three all scored in the same league game for the first time this season.
Liverpool had trailed at home in the league for the first time in a day short of a year when Ainsley Maitland-Niles turned home Alex Iwobi’s excellent cross 11 minutes in.
However, the lead lasted just three minutes as Firmino profited from some calamitous Arsenal defending to level and then left Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos on the floor to score his second goal in three minutes.
Mane and Salah’s penalty had the game wrapped up by half-time and Firmino completed his hat-trick from the spot as Jurgen Klopp’s men extended their unbeaten league start to 20 games and took another significant step towards a first league title since 1989/1990.
Win again in their next outing at Manchester City on Thursday and only a Liverpool collapse in the final months of the season can prevent an end to nearly three decades of hurt.
Champions City now trail the pace setters by 10 points and even if they reduce that lead to seven with victory at Southampton on Sunday, they need to end Liverpool’s invincible season so far to get back in the title race at the Etihad.
Tottenham’s title ambitions suffered a huge blow as Wolves scored three times in the final 18 minutes to win 3-1 at Wembley earlier on Saturday to further embolden Anfield with belief before kick-off.
That confidence could have been shaken when after a bright Liverpool start, it was Arsenal who led when Iwobi’s teasing cross perfectly dissected Alisson Becker and Virgil van Dijk, to leave Maitland-Niles with an open goal.
The signings of Alisson and Van Dijk have been credited for Liverpool’s rock solid defensive record with that goal just the eighth they have conceded all season in the league.
But that solidity is now being married with a return to the sort of form Salah, Firmino and Mane showed last season in smashing a combined 91 goals last season.
Firmino didn’t even have to look at the ball when he slotted the equaliser into an empty net after Sokratis’s attempted clearance rebounded off Mustafi into his path to quickly level.
However, the Brazilian did all the hard work himself two minutes later by jinking through Arsenal’s hapless central defensive pairing before drilling low past Bernd Leno.
Mane made it 3-1 on 32 minutes when Salah cushioned a cross perfectly into the Senegalese’s path to side-foot high into the net.
Arsenal were handed a let off moments later by referee Michael Oliver when Granit Xhaka was only given a final warning rather than a second booking in a matter of seconds for kicking the ball away in frustration.
But Oliver gave Liverpool the chance to extend their lead just before half-time when Salah tumbled under pressure from Sokratis in the box.
Leno got a touch to the Egyptian’s spot-kick but couldn’t stop Salah moving level with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Harry Kane as the Premier League’s top scorer on 13.
Liverpool could easily have had more after the break as only a poor touch from Salah allowed Leno to smother and the German ‘keeper also denied Fabinho, while at the other end Aubameyang’s blushes were saved by the offside flag when he fired over with an open goal gaping.
Salah gave up the chance to move clear in the race for the golden boot when Sead Kolasinac pushed Dejan Lovren 25 minutes from time and Firmino gratefully fired home the penalty to round off a five-star performance.