It was to be another fantastic Saturday at Anfield as Liverpool closed off the year in some style much to the delight of the thousands packed inside the stadium. As the game approached, there was optmism as the Reds went into the game having won the last 8 league matches with a small err of caution as the last side to avoid defeat was Arsenal at the start of November. In the minutes leading up to the game, a wry smile as news of Wolves win at Spurs started going around and a chance to extend the gap between us and the Londoners was waiting.
The climb up the stairs to row 70 of the Kop followed and a raucous atmosphere greeted the players as they entered the field, focused on the matter at hand as a fast start almost led to an early opening goal as Robertson tried to find Mane and then Roberto Firmino had a shot which deflected towards the post and wide, potentially off Salah. Then came a warning sign as a wayward pass by Fabinho gave Arsenal a chance to score with Alisson denying Iwobi.
It was a warning that wasn’t heeded as Iwobi played the ball across the box for Ainsley Maitland-Niles to give Arsenal an unexpected lead although the Liverpool scoreboard appeared to not acknowledge the goal, whether it was believing it was offside or not but it took until the equaliser for the Arsenal goal to be registered. Talk about a quick response, as Liverpool raced straight back level and then into the lead in a breathless couple of minutes. Roberto Firmino went into the game having scored 5 against Arsenal in his Liverpool career, a joint-best along with Watford and Swansea City and having scored in every Anfield league appearance against the gunners too. For the first goal it fell to him after good work by Salah and poor defending by Arsenal and the Brazilian was on hand to make Anfield erupt and just a few seconds later, Mane blocked an Arsenal pass and it fell to Firmino who danced around the Arsenal challenges and calmly slotted it into the net to complete a turnaround of less than 5 minutes to give Liverpool the lead.
Groans as a Liverpool corner again failed to create anything but as Robertson put the ball back in Mo Salah put it on a plate for Sadio Mane to put the Reds into a 2 goal cushion and send the Kop into the delirium, and in scenes akin to Lallana and Klopp at Norwich a couple of years ago, my glasses went flying in the celebrations.
The last time Liverpool had such a title charge was 2013/2014 and a rampant 5-1 victory over Arsenal. That proved to be my final home league match until the Newcastle game on the final day of that season and it seems that unless the fates allow that this could yet be a near-symmetrical outcome as possibly my final home league game of the season as demand for tickets already outweighs the demand and it is unlikely to cool anytime soon.
Alisson launched a counter attack just before half time finding Firmino who found Salah who went down for a penalty, as the Arsenal players debated it with the referee, the Kop burst into a chorus of “Alisson, Alisson, Alisson” to show their appreciation for the goalkeeper for the part he played in the move. Salah made it 4-1 and that was that for the first half. Breathless spells and an attacking display, the great sides of the 70’s and 80’s would be proud of.
Down to the concourse at half time to watch the replays on the screens and one man’s name was reverberating across the 300s concourse. “There’s something that the Kop wants you to know” – Firmino’s song increasing in volume with each rendition. It was a party atmosphere and you immediately think of how many it could end up as. The 2nd half for all of it’s might never met the same billing as the 1st but as Henderson came on and made an immediate impact, launching straight into tackles to win the ball, it was his ball across that saw the referee award a 2nd penalty of the game to Liverpool. Just like that old adage about buses, Liverpool, prior to the penalty against Newcastle on Boxing Day, hadn’t been given a home league penalty since the Huddersfield game on 28th October 2017 and here we were with 3 in little over 72 hours. Roberto Firmino stepped up, and thoughts turned once again to the last title challenge when Daniel Sturridge stepped up at the Kop end to try and complete a hat-trick and get a 5th for Liverpool in the Merseyside Derby only to scoop it over the bar in the 4-0 victory. Thankfully history didn’t repeat itself and Firmino scored to make it 5-1.
There was even time for comedy when Leno tried to clear the ball only for Jordan Henderson to smash it high wide and not so handsome, leading to chants from the Kop – “What the F***ing hell was that” to which the skipper raised both arms in acknowledgement and laughed. Arsenals fans were heading for the exits in their droves and Liverpool were heading 9 points clear, albeit awaiting Manchester City to play on the Sunday but even so, a minimum 7 points clear heading into the 1st match of the new year away at City.