Three second-half goals, including two from sub Diogo Jota, strengthened Liverpool’s top-four hopes with a dominant 3-0 win over a tame Arsenal at the Emirates.
James Milner missed the best chance of a dominant but goalless first half for Liverpool, with a shot-shy Arsenal registering just one attempt in the first hour, described by Sky Sports’ Gary Neville as “shabby” throughout a poor home performance.
Liverpool found their clinical edge after the hour mark, taking the lead through sub Jota’s header from a superb Trent Alexander-Arnold cross (64), a much-needed assist having been left out of the recent England squad.
Mohamed Salah made it 2-0 four minutes later, stealing the ball from Gabriel in the box before slotting through Bernd Leno’s legs, moments before Gabriel’s lax pass was feasted upon by Alexander-Arnold as Jota devoured the chance to smash home eight yards out (82) following touches from Salah and Sadio Mane.
The result means Liverpool are now just two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea with eight games remaining, while Arsenal stay ninth, just a point off the bottom half.
Arsenal Leno (5), Chambers (5), Holding (5), Gabriel (5), Tierney (6), Partey (4), Ceballos (3), Aubameyang (3), Odegaard (5), Pepe (5), Lacazette (5)
Subs: Soares (5), Elneny (5), Martinelli (NA)
Liverpool: Alisson (7), Alexander-Arnold (8), Phillips (7), Kabak (7), Robertson (6), Fabinho (8), Milner (7), Thiago (6), Mane (7), Firminho (6), Salah (7)
Subs: Jota (8), Wijnaldum (NA), R Williams (NA)
Man of the match: Fabinho
How Liverpool started top-four charge in style at Emirates
Regardless of the stature of these two sides, this was ninth versus seventh in the Premier League, and Arsenal in particular resembled more of a mid-table outfit as they served up a limp show.
Mikel Arteta fielded Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe and Alexandre Lacazette together for the first time this season, the three most expensive players in Arsenal’s history, with Jurgen Klopp saying before the game the Gunners had “put everything they have offensively” on the pitch. But Arsenal’s approach was anything but offensive from minute one to 90.
On the day it was confirmed that it was mathematically impossible for Liverpool to retain the Premier League title, Klopp’s side dominated the ball, with Arsenal registering just one shot on goal in the first 61 minutes.
Arsenal’s four touches in the Liverpool box in the first half was also their fewest in a PL home game since March 2014.
50 up for Arteta
This was Mikel Arteta’s 50th Premier League game in charge of Arsenal (W21 D12 L17), with the Spaniard losing four more games than his predecessor Unai Emery (13) after his first 50 games in the competition.
Liverpool had several half chances – the impressive Fabinho, back in midfield, drilled wide from range, as did Roberto Firmino – but Milner should have put the visitors ahead striking wide in space 15 yards out from Alexander-Arnold’s cut-back.
Arsenal were “alarming” and “flaky” without the ball, said Neville on commentary, and were dealt a blow just before the break as Kieran Tierney was forced off having jarred his knee.
After Chelsea’s shock 5-2 defeat by West Ham earlier on Saturday, Liverpool had the chance to close the gap on the top-four spots, and they took that opportunity in the second half as they turned dominance into goals.
Alexander-Arnold answered critics with an unplayable, deep cross from the right wing, finding Jota in the box to head past Bernd Leno just three minutes after coming on. Alexander-Arnold’s elation was evident in his celebration as he looks to force his way into Gareth Southgate’s plans for Euro 2020.
And Liverpool’s second came shortly after as Salah, chasing down Gabriel from man-of-the-match Fabinho’s pass, stole the ball from the Arsenal defender in the box as he looked to slide in and clear, allowing Salah to bear down on goal and slot through Leno’s legs from eight yards.
With Arsenal crumbling, Salah should have had his second and Liverpool’s third as he latched onto Firmino’s ball between the centre-backs, but his half volley was beaten away well by Leno.
But Liverpool did get their third as Gabriel’s poor pass out from defence was intercepted by Alexander-Arnold; Salah took over, squaring from the right for Mane, whose hold-up allowed Jota to smash into the net from close range.
Mane almost added a fourth in injury time as Leno denied him at his feet, but this was Liverpool back to their imperious best for one game at least as they look to achieve the bare minimum of a Champions League in this most humbling of seasons.
Arsenal were without Bukayo Saka; the winger withdrew from the England squad last week as he continues to manage a hamstring niggle and missed out on the squad – as did Emile Smith Rowe, who injured a hip on England Under-21s duty.
Gunners boss Mikel Arteta made four changes from the 3-3 draw at West Ham as Gabriel Magalhaes and Rob Holding came into the defence with Dani Ceballos and Nicolas Pepe also in the starting XI.
Roberto Firmino returned to the Liverpool side as Jurgen Klopp made two changes. The Brazil forward had missed the last three games with a knee injury but was recalled in place of Diogo Jota, while James Milner came in for Georginio Wijnaldum.
Without the energy of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, Arsenal were deeply disappointing, with Aubameyang brought off with 14 minutes remaining having been largely anonymous on the left flank, ahead of an arguably more important clash in the Europa League quarter-finals on Thursday against Slavia Prague.
Man of the Match – Fabinho
Sky Sports’ Gary Neville:
“Trent has done well, in light of what we’ve seen him go through over the past week or so, but I’ll go for Fabinho.
He has been Liverpool’s best player. He is outstanding. He is the best defensive midfielder in the league.”
Arsenal now host Slavia Prague in their Europa League quarter-final first leg at 8pm on Thursday, before going to Sheffield United at 7pm on Sunday in the Premier League.
Liverpool go to Real Madrid at 8pm on Tuesday in the Champions League quarter-final first leg, and then host Aston Villa at 3pm on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Premier League.