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sabato 8 febbraio 2014

Rampant Reds humiliate Wenger's men: Liverpool-Arsenal 5-1

By the end, Liverpool had inflicted the heaviest Anfield defeat on Arsenal since the day, almost 50 years ago, when Bill Shankly won the first of his three league titles. Five goals, utter humiliation for Arsenal, and the overwhelming sense that Arsène Wenger's side had actually been lucky to escape an even more harrowing ordeal. They were overwhelmed in that dazzling blur of attack after attack when Liverpool scored four times in the opening 19 minutes and Wenger should probably just be grateful the humiliation did not become even more degrading once Raheem Sterling made it 5-0 early in the second half.

Five-nil, back in April 1964, amounted to Arsenal's heaviest defeat at Anfield and the modern-day Liverpool still had 40 minutes or so to go even higher when Sterling ran on to Kolo Touré's long pass, with almost non-existent marking, and slipped his shot past Wojciech Szczesny at the second attempt. Wenger's players had neglected every basic duty. They had abandoned marking, tackling and, in Mesut Özil's case, sometimes even running. Physically, they looked shot and Wenger talked afterwards like a man in shock. "Maybe it is better I go home and do not say too much," he said. Stan Kroenke, huddled in a red blanket on the front row of the directors' box, certainly picked a bad day for one of his rare expeditions to see the team.

For Liverpool, it amounts to their most illuminating performance of the season – even better than the 5-0 at Tottenham – and quite possibly that of any other team as well. How strange that, amid all the fun, Suárez did not join in the scoring but, then again, the game was absurd in many ways, not least the fact that Liverpool missed as many chances as they scored during that breathless early onslaught. The sheer speed and fluency of Liverpool's front three, all interchanging positions, dizzied their opponents. There were some spectacular flashes, too. At one point Gerrard grew tired of exposing Arsenal's inability to head the ball clear and angled a corner into Suárez's path, loitering with intent, 25 yards from goal. His first touch carried the ball a little behind him. The second, swivelling on the spot, hooked his foot around the ball with an almost implausible expertise, thundered a volley towards goal. The ball was still rising as it thudded off the post. What a peach of a goal that would have been.

Arsenal seemed to have no recollection of what it was that had taken them to the top in the first place but it is difficult to overstate the thrilling nature of Liverpool's play. Football is full of hyperbole but that bewitching spell in the opening 20 minutes warranted every superlative. Arsenal, meanwhile, will have to live with the scrutiny. Brendan Rodgers was not being spoilt afterwards when he said his team should have scored more and there was something revealing about the way Wenger took off Özil, Olivier Giroud and Nacho Monreal in one triple substitution. His team had been outclassed and, on this evidence, it is not particularly easy to believe Arsenal have the durability and personality to finish as champions.


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