Tempo the key for yet another Anfield masterclass

Posted by Steven Kelly

Even in such a season of emphatic victories and intoxicating highs, there seemed very little likelihood of Liverpool raising the bar again after the mauling of Everton. Yet as early as the twentieth minute of Arsenal's visit, everyone was wondering how there could ever have been any doubt. It ended up 5-1, it could have been more.

And this was against the top side. The Gunners have had their fair share of back-handed praise already. It's almost as if the experts wanted them (and Liverpool) to move aside while the real big hitters, Daddy Bigbucks and Scrooge McDuck, could get on with what modern football's really all about; buying titles. So this was supposed to be an also-ran battle after the heavyweight contest last Monday, but it sure didn't feel that way.

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The 1-1 draw with Albion had punctured the feel-good factor of the derby triumph. It had all seemed rather unnecessary but so very, very typical of 21st Century Anfield. Just when you thought there was something to be genuinely upbeat about, the balloon gets popped. Now we're back in the clouds again. What a ride this is.

As seems obligatory with this club, there will be intense and scrupulous analysis on just about everything the Londoners did wrong. Liverpool fans are used to it. Newcastle were torn apart 6-0 last season, and were then ripped to shreds again by the media. Few mentioned that it was the first time in 80 years they'd been handed their backsides on their own turf. Liverpool put eight past Besiktas in one European campaign, and UEFA held an investigation into match fixing!

Tottenham sacked their manager on the back of the 5-0 in December while Roberto Martinez was spanked for being far too adventurous in the recent derby. Now it will be Arsene Wenger's turn, but it's just possible they might have to accept a rather unpalatable truth; that this Liverpool team is capable of doing just about anything to just about anybody.

I'm not much of a gambler. One incident years ago where a 50-1 bet was lost with the final kick of a game I wasn't even interested in may have scarred me for life. There's also the small concern of having no predictive skills whatsoever. Before Saturday's game I grandly surmised that Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge would get little change out of the Arsenal centre-backs who had been in such good form, and that it might be time for someone else to step up.

In fairness to myself how many others thought that "someone else" would be Martin Skrtel? I love going in Liverpool's Paddock Enclosure. You get to encourage your team at a volume the closest players can actually hear, plus you can let the assistant referee know -- in the politest possible fashion -- how ill-suited he is to his chosen profession. You also see the managers up close. Wenger instantly decided discretion was the better part of valour, and that a suit wasn't really up to the weather rigours of the day. He had no sooner reached for his sawn-off sleeping bag than a huge noise made him look back towards the pitch: his side were already a goal down.

You can, almost without fail, tell which Liverpool has turned up within the opening ten minutes. Rafa Benitez used to harp on about high tempo, so much so people wondered if it was one of his Spanish players we weren't pronouncing properly, but against Arsenal this was something else. It was turbo-charged, and just like Goodison's finest Arsenal did not know what had hit them.

Suddenly it was two nil, three nil, four nil and then there were forty thousand incredulous faces. They had already suffered an outbreak of double-takes when Sturridge missed a complete sitter. Liverpool fans were bouncing between physically reckless euphoria and clutching their head in their hands after yet another near miss, with Suarez also hitting the post amidst all the net-bulging.

When Sturridge slid in the fourth, despite the hysteria I managed to catch a glimpse of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the halfway line. I swear he started limping and clutching his groin. That's the kind of thing you used to do at school when the ball was too hard, the weather too cold and the other team too good. It was one moment of hilarity in a hellish opening for Arsenal.

Of course there's always time for a complaint or two. The shell-shocked opposition seemed reluctant to come at the Reds to win possession, which should have been Liverpool's cue to pass around them and kill the game. The players soon got bored with this and kept searching for a killer pass for number five, which generally surrendered possession at a time when Arsenal were out for the count. A small thing to worry about after such a colossal start, but such slipshod work can be punished and you never want to give any of the top sides a way back, however far-fetched it might seem.

Like Everton, Arsenal pushed their full-backs forward to try and take on Liverpool, but the home side were ready for them. Coutinho and Sterling were excellent, always lying in wait for the opportune moment to stride away and punish Arsenal further. The Brazilian also has a little niggle to his game, irritating the irritable Jack Wilshire into a series of complaints to the referee. Jordan Henderson did the work of two and Steven Gerrard seems best suited to his new role when he gets the bit between his teeth and the opposition merits total concentration. He did so much excellent defensive work on a day when attack will obviously take most of the plaudits.

Anfield's DJ often chooses the right tune for any occasion, and at half-time Pete Wylie's "Better Scream" came belting through the speakers; "You'd better run, you'd better pray", indeed. It's quite possible Arsenal fans did not find this as amusing as Liverpool supporters did.

The second half could not possibly live up to the first, though it's always nice to nip any thoughts of a comeback in the bud with another goal. There's disappointment when you don't get the clean sheet, but it must be said Kolo Toure was far better this week while Jon Flanagan really has put pressure on Glen Johnson, as he did before in 2011. Back then Kenny Dalglish was forced to keep Johnson as a makeshift left-back because the youngster had done so well. In a World Cup year there will be pressures on domestic managers to support the international cause, but Liverpool must come first and if he keeps this level up 'Flano' can't be dropped.

There were no weaknesses. Even Aly Cissokho looked determined, and the substitutions were an indication of Liverpudlian dominance. I'm sure Suarez will benefit greatly from that five minutes rest! It was all about the ovations rather than the tactics. Even a side as good as Arsenal knows when it's licked.

This was a stunning performance, going beyond the Spurs and Everton triumphs. The visitors certainly missed Theo Walcott's pace, and they still can't rediscover that touch of finesse, power and command in the centre of the pitch they used to get from Patrick Vieira.

The visiting fans were reduced to small-time queries about where the atmosphere was, long after it had ceased to matter, whilst casually ignoring their own silence during the goal deluge and a steady stream of departures for the rest of the match. It reached its nadir when they sang "Shall we sing a song for you?", like they were Crystal Palace or something.

So did Brendan Rodgers' little gamesmanship before the game work? People will still continue to argue about Liverpool's title credentials all day long. He certainly wouldn't be the only person who thought they stood no chance, after all.

But that doesn't mean he's right.


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