As Liverpool’s title challenge began to mount, a lunchtime kick off hosting the current Premier League leaders would firmly test the credentials of the reds with all those packed in Anfield about to witness a truly unbelievable first 20 minutes of the match, one that had the title been won, would have surely been told to grandchildren in the years to come.
For me, Liverpool’s early season form that had propelled them to top of the tree by christmas had had a negative impact on obtaining tickets for games in the 2nd half of the season in the bulk sale that was held in November 2013 so for this game, I had to rely on late members sales and obtaining spare tickets through a variety of sources. This game continued to prove elusive with minimal spares passing hands unless you wanted to part with a significant amount of money from a tout, but that issue would only begin to get worse as the run that had fans dreaming rumbled on. Despite hunting for a normal spare ticket, even these were like Willy Wonka’s golden ticket so I ended up being fortunate enough to secure a spare hospitality ticket for less than £10 more than a normal face value ticket. My first and to date only experience of hospitality at Anfield and by 1:05pm, it was clearly money well spent.
Having met the seller at the ground and accompanying him into the Centenary stand, I was able to have a nice cooked breakfast/lunch and drink before proceeding to pick up my complimentary programme as well as a team sheet for the match that was about to begin. I watched some of the build up on one of the many TV screens located around the lounge before eventually taking my position in the lower centenary stand, row 10, almost in direct line with the Kop end goal which would only see the net bulge once in a teriffic contest. It was a very similar position albeit a few rows lower down to that of my very first match at Anfield.
As the chorus of You’ll Never Walk Alone began to fade, the excitement and nerves begin to swarm the Anfield air and as the experts gave Liverpool little to no chance of a result, they were soon made to eat their words as an early foul allowed Steven Gerrard the opportunity to deliver the first set piece of the afternoon’s action. The ball was curled delicately into a dangerous position, begging to be attacked and although Kolo Toure failed to make a connection with the ball, it was prodded home by Martin Skrtel to give Liverpool a lead within the first minute of the match.
Less than 9 minutes later and Martin Skrtel had doubled his account for the afternoon as a Steven Gerrard corner was flicked hopefully towards goal by the Slovakian and despite the attempts of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the line, the ball looped in and the Kop was roaring once more as Skrtel raced towards the Centenary stand in celebration.
As the clock ticked past the quarter hour mark, Anfield rocked even more as the score ticked over to 3-0 after a perfect move which saw Arsenal fans crying for a foul and Luis Suarez ignoring that and putting a teasing ball across the box begging for somebody to tuck it home and Raheem Sterling, just ahead of Daniel Sturridge, put the ball past a helpless Wojciech Szczesny.
And before 20 minutes had elapsed, Philippe Coutinho intercepted a loose Arsenal pass and then proceeded to take full advantage as a short run was followed by a delicate, precise slide rule pass that gave Daniel Sturridge an opportunity to strike at goal with the Arsenal goalkeeper some 10+ yards from his goal line. An opportunity the deadly England striker was not going to pass up as he began to dance then immediately hand the plaudits to his Brazilian team mate for a perfect pass to create the chance. After such a pulsating opening to the game… my thoughts soon turned to just how many we could get and how was this side top of the league.. they were looking worse than the Everton side who had been at Anfield less than 2 weeks earlier and suffered a 4-0 defeat that could literally have been so many more, who knows how many it would have ended at if Sturridge had not scooped his penalty into the Kop.
After such an amazing 20 minutes.. the first half failed to produce any more goals although shortly after the break, Liverpool did grab that 5th goal with Raheem Sterling tucking home on the rebound after his initial effort was blocked, despite the opportunity to supply Sturridge with a tap-in also on offer for the England winger. Arsenal did manage to get a mere consolation with an Arteta penalty that was greeted with louder cheers by some sections of the Anfield faithful than those who had traveled from the capital in the morning and still remained in the ground.
What was rare was the lack of a goal for a certain Uruguayan striker but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Steven Gerrard tried an unconventional corner that threatened to catch Arsenal cold but Suarez’s rasping drive hammered the post before striking Kolo Toure and trickling wide as well as a free-kick extremely well kept out by the Arsenal goalkeeper.
Leaving the ground, I was questioning how on earth it ended 5-1 not 10-1 and started to allow myself to dream of the title. As I’ve mentioned earlier about the issues with ticketing, this would prove to be the final match I was able to attend until the last game of the season against Newcastle as the demand for tickets screamed it’s way up with the prices charged by the touts and those “supporters” looking for a quick buck as opposed to helping genuine supporters get tickets.