MX23RW : Friday, May 24 11:38:14| >> :600:12154235:12154235:
Dec 29, 2018 at 5.30pm UK at ​Anfield
Attendance: 53,326
Firmino (14', 16', 65' pen.), Mane (32'), Salah (45' pen.)
FT(HT: 4-1)

Live Commentary: Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal - as it happened

Relive Liverpool's 5-1 win over Arsenal as Roberto Firmino hits a hat-trick to help the Reds move nine points clear at the top of the Premier League table.
Live Commentary: Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal - as it happened
© Reuters

Liverpool stormed into a nine-point lead at the top of the Premier League table this afternoon courtesy of a rampant 5-1 win over Arsenal at Anfield.

The visitors took a surprise lead through Ainsley Maitland-Niles after only 11 minutes, but just five minutes later Liverpool were ahead themselves courtesy of a quickfire Roberto Firmino brace.

Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah got in on the act to put Liverpool in control at half time, and Firmino then completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot after the interval as the hosts chalked up a ninth straight league win.

Find out how all of the action unfolded courtesy of Sports Mole's minute-by-minute updates below.

Good afternoon! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole for today's late Premier League kickoff as unbeaten leaders Liverpool host Arsenal at Anfield!

The home side enjoyed a record-breaking first half of the campaign and saw results fall kindly for them over the Christmas period, leaving them with the chance to take a six-point lead into 2019 this afternoon. Arsenal are one of only three teams to have avoided defeat against the Reds so far this term, though, and this fixture so often throws up entertainment and goals galore.

We will have a close look at both clubs a little later, but first let's check out the team news...

LIVERPOOL STARTING XI: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Wijnaldum; Shaqiri, Firmino, Mane; Salah

LIVERPOOL SUBS: Mignolet, Clyne, Keita, Henderson, Sturridge, Lallana, Origi

ARSENAL STARTING XI: Leno; Lichtsteiner, Mustafi, Sokratis; Maitland-Niles, Torreira, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Ramsey, Iwobi, Aubameyang

ARSENAL SUBS: Cech, Koscielny, Elneny, Guendouzi, Willock, Saka, Lacazette

What can we make of those two sides, then?

Well, it is more or less what we expected from Liverpool as Jurgen Klopp makes just the one change from the Boxing Day win over Newcastle - captain Jordan Henderson dropping to the bench and Fabinho coming into midfield.

Fabinho scored his first goal for the club when he came off the bench against Newcastle, wrapping up the scoring in a 4-0 drubbing, and he earns his place from the start this afternoon.

Aside from that, it is as you were for Liverpool, which means another start for Xherdan Shaqiri in what is expected to be a 4-2-3-1 formation once again.

Shaqiri has already proven to be a bargain for Liverpool this season, making an impact either off the bench or from the start of matches, and he now has four goals in his last four league outings for Liverpool - as many as he had managed in his previous 20 prior to that run.

As usual it is Mohamed Salah who has been the main source of goals for Liverpool this season from his new central striking role, but against Arsenal it is Roberto Firmino who has often shone the brightest in the past.

The Brazilian may have failed to score in his last 11 league games at Anfield, but he has been directly involved in eight goals in his last six league games against the Gunners, scoring five of those himself - a tally only Robbie Fowler can beat for Liverpool against Arsenal in the Premier League era.

Liverpool's Roberto Firmino celebrates after scoring during his side's Premier League clash with Watford on November 24, 2018© Reuters

While Liverpool's attack appear to be getting better and better as the season progresses, their defence has been the most impressive unit of the team this season and that remains unchanged this afternoon.

Trent Alexander-Arnold is back fit once again, while injuries for Gomez and Matip mean that Lovren is the only real choice to partner the imperious Virgil van Dijk at the heart of the defence. Add Andy Robertson and Alisson to that list and it is a fearsome back five for the Reds.

Arsenal are tasked with unlocking that defence without Mesut Ozil, who is notably absent from the squad entirely for this match after being hooked at half time against Brighton.

It is not the first time we have seen Ozil left out of a big game under Unai Emery, and with no reports of an injury during the build-up to this match the latest omission is sure to raise more questions over his future at the club.

Emery has opted for a midfield diamond in recent matches, but it looks as though it will be a 3-4-3 formation today with Lichtsteiner, Sokratis and the returning Mustafi forming the three at the back.

Mustafi was considering an outside possibility at best to make this match having suffered with a hamstring injury of late, but his return is a big boost for the Gunners considering they are still missing the likes of Holding, Mavropanos, Bellerin and Monreal.

Koscielny only makes the bench today having suffered a minor foot problem during the draw with Brighton - dropping out of the side as one of four changes to the team which started at the Amex.

Guendouzi, Ozil and interestingly Alexandre Lacazette also miss out on a place in the team this afternoon, with Maitland-Niles, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Iwobi joining Mustafi in returning to the XI. Ramsey's inclusion is particularly interesting considering he has been linked with Liverpool when his contract expires at the end of the season.

The main man Liverpool will have to look out for today is PIerre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is the only player to have outscored Mo Salah during the first half of the season, netting 13 goals including six in his last eight away from home.

The Gabon international has a brilliant record since joining Arsenal, scoring 23 goals and creating seven more in 32 Premier League appearances for the club.

Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates scoring against Burnley on December 22, 2018© Reuters

There are players capable of hurting Liverpool in that Arsenal team, then, but the in-form hosts will still be favourites to come away with all three points here and should they do so then they would move nine points clear at the top of the table, until at least tomorrow.

Spurs - who now sit second - have just fallen to a 3-1 defeat at home to Wolves and Man City are not in action until Sunday, which means that Liverpool have another chance to steal a march on their rivals here.

There is, of course, still a long way to go this season, but results over Christmas will have just got fans believing that this could indeed be their year, with champions Man City falling to successive defeats and slipping down to third - seven points adrift - as a result.

Tottenham's defeat today means that a Liverpool win here would take them a small step closer to glory, and with Man City to come in their first match of 2019 they will also have another chance to inflict some serious damage on another one of their rivals next week.

The improvement from Liverpool has been quite remarkable; at the halfway stage of last season they were 20 points adrift of Man City, whereas this time around they are 16 points better off - not to mention having conceded 16 fewer goals and scored two more.

It is, unsurprisingly, the best start Liverpool have ever made to a top-flight season, and as things stand they are on course to outshine even Man City's 100-point tally from last term.

The Boxing Day thrashing of Newcastle made them just the fourth team to reach the halfway stage of a Premier League season without losing, and all of the previous three - Arsenal in 2003-04, Manchester United in 2010-11 and Man City last season - have gone on to win the title.

Indeed, it is the third-best points tally at the halfway point of a Premier League campaign ever, behind only Man City from last season and Chelsea's class of 2005-06.

Liverpool players celebrate after Fabinho's goal during their win over Newcastle United on December 26, 2018© Reuters

Only once have Liverpool ever made it more than 20 games unbeaten at the start of a top-flight season - a 29-game streak in 1988-89 - but an even more impressive statistic regards their incredible defensive record.

A clean sheet this afternoon would see Liverpool post the best-ever defensive record after 20 games of a campaign in the 130-year history of English top-flight football, with the Reds having conceded just seven goals so far this term. Only Chelsea from 2008-09 can match that after 19 games.

While Man City understandably dominated the conversation of title favourites for much of the first half of the season, it has taken back-to-back defeats for the champions for the light to really shine on Liverpool's relentless form.

Klopp's side have not dropped a single Premier League point since their last match against Arsenal at the beginning of November, winning each of their last eight league outings - already their longest run since the 11-game streak which took them to the brink of the title in 2013-14.

Indeed, Man City are the only team to have taken any Premier League points off Liverpool at Anfield this season, winning eight and drawing one of their nine such outings - and conceding only two goals in the process.

It is now 30 games since Liverpool suffered a league defeat in front of their own fans stretching back to April 2017, and should they win or draw today then it would be equal their 31-game streak between December 2007 and August 2009.

It is a daunting challenge even for a club like Arsenal, then, although they may take some encouragement from the fact that they were one of only three teams to take points off Liverpool during the first half of the season.

Indeed, Arsenal were the last team to take any points off Liverpool in the league, although that did come at the Emirates Stadium and a trip to Anfield is an entirely different proposition.

The Gunners do not come into this showdown in the best form either, having struggled to recover after seeing a 22-match unbeaten streak across all competitions come to an end earlier this month.

Arsenal have now only won one of their last four games since that run was ended by Southampton, including a disappointing 1-1 draw against Brighton on Boxing Day.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gave his Arsenal side the lead in that match at the Amex, only for Jurgen Locadia to level things up later in the first half, which proved to be the final goal of the game as the spoils were shared.

That result saw Arsenal slip two points behind the Champions League places, with Chelsea winning to consolidate their spot in fourth, but Arsenal do have the chance to climb out of fifth today.

Only an unexpected victory would be enough to achieve that, though, and even then it could only be until tomorrow, when Chelsea take on Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

Finishing in that top four has to be the main aim for Arsenal this season, but considering they were 12 points off the pace by the end of last season, doing so would be some achievement for Unai Emery during his first year at the helm.

Unai Emery goes cray on December 2, 2018© Reuters

Arsenal are four points better off than they were at the halfway stage of last season, although on that occasion they were also only one point off the Champions League places.

The major improvement under Emery so far this term compared to last is their away form, having amassed just 16 points on the road throughout 2017-18 but already picking up 15 during the first half of this season.

That away form has dipped lately, though, with Arsenal winless in their last three on the road and picking up only one win from their last five.

There is still plenty of work to do defensively too; the Gunners have conceded in each of their last nine away league games - conceding 16 goals in the process - and are now only two games short of equalling an unwanted club record for the Premier League.

The biggest concern comes in away games against top opposition, though, which is a problem Emery has been unable to solve so far.

The Gunners are winless in their last 19 Premier League away games against members of the 'big six' - losing 12 in a run which stretches back almost three years - while they have won just one of their last 12 league away games against teams beginning the day top of the table.

That solitary victory came more than 10 years ago too, with Arsenal losing their last six such matches in a row by an aggregate score of 17-2.

PREDICTION: Right, we're 10 minutes away from kickoff at Anfield, which means that it is time for a prediction!

It is hard to bet against Liverpool in their current form, particularly here at Anfield. Arsenal have the ability to test the hosts and score a rare goal for a visiting team here, but we have to go for another Liverpool win this afternoon.

SPORTS MOLE SAYS: Liverpool 3-1 Arsenal

Arsenal answered a few critics with a solid showing in the reverse fixture between these two sides, although they still needed a late equaliser from Lacazette to rescue a point.

James Milner had given Liverpool the lead shortly after the hour mark and the Reds had the chances to take all three, but Arsenal will have felt that they were worthy of their draw at the Emirates.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan heads over during the Premier League game between Arsenal and Liverpool on November 3, 2018© Reuters

The Gunners did not put up such a good fight on their last visit to Anfield, though, with Liverpool running out 4-0 winners here in August last year as Firmino, Mane, Salah and Sturridge all got on the scoresheet.

Indeed, Anfield has not been a happy hunting ground for Arsenal of late - they have conceded 17 goals during a five-game winless run here.

Home or away it is now seven games unbeaten for Liverpool against Arsenal across all competitions - a run which contains three wins, four draws and stretches back to April 2015.

The last time they enjoyed a longer run was between 1994 and 2000, when they were 12 league games unbeaten and 14 across all competitions.

Right, we're almost ready for kickoff at Anfield! Let's have a quick reminder of the team news before we do get started...

LIVERPOOL STARTING XI: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Wijnaldum; Shaqiri, Firmino, Mane; Salah

ARSENAL STARTING XI: Leno; Lichtsteiner, Mustafi, Sokratis; Maitland-Niles, Torreira, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Ramsey, Iwobi, Aubameyang

KICKOFF:  Here we go, then! We are underway at Anfield!

Liverpool have made a really quick start to this match and Robertson fires a brilliant cross into the box from the left here. Mane is slightly on his heels, though, and it goes through to Leno.

It looks like it is a back four for Arsenal, rather than a back three. Lichtsteiner is on the right and Kolasinac on the left, with Maitland-Niles a little further forward.

CHANCE!  Another bright moment for Liverpool early on as Mane turns sharply and bursts forward before giving the ball to Firmino. Firmino drills an effort towards goal, but it hits Salah and flashes just wide of the near post.

Liverpool have been right up for this one from the very first whistle. They are playing quick, sharp football and Arsenal are struggling to match that pace in the opening exchanges.

SAVE!  Arsenal hit back with their first sight of goal as Fabinho plays his side into big trouble. His pass across his own half is cut off by Iwobi, who advances into the box and draws a low stop from Alisson at the near post.

CHANCE!  A chance from the resulting corner as a short corner is then swung into the area. Mustafi slides in but sees it flash through, and the offside flag is then raised against Aubameyang.


GOAL!  Now then! There is a turn-up for the books! Liverpool have started the match brightly, but they now find themselves behind at Anfield!

Lovren gives the ball away cheaply with an attempted long pass forward, and from there Arsenal attack straight at the Liverpool defence. Iwobi exchanges passes on his way down the left flank before putting a brilliant ball into the box which takes Alisson out of the game and leaves Maitland-Niles to knock it home at the back post.

That is Maitland-Niles's first goal for Arsenal, and what a time - and place - to get it! Game on now!


GOAL!  What a response from Liverpool! It is a messy, messy goal, but the hosts will not care one bit as they hit back immediately!

Salah looks to get a shot away from the edge of the area but Xhaka gets his foot in. Lichtsteiner then tries to flick it past Mustafi, but it hits his teammate, bounces past Leno and leaves Firmino with the easiest finish.


GOAL!  Incredible scenes at Anfield as Firmino makes it two goals in less than two minutes!

The first saw him benefit from a huge stroke of luck, but this one is all about the Brazilian's skill. It is poor defending in the first place as Arsenal are caught in possession, and from there Firmino dribbles past two Arsenal defenders on the edge before slotting his finish past the keeper!

Now Arsenal hit back and almost create a chance with Ramsey picking the ball up in the area, but Wijnaldum is there to make the challenge and the referee quickly waves away any claims of a penalty.

This game never disappoints, does it? It has been a breathless opening quarter to this match and we still have a long way to go here!

CHANCE!  Mane skips past Lichtsteiner into the box and tries to go for goal, but the angle is against him and Leno makes a comfortable save.

Things have just settled down a little after that frantic opening 20 minutes, but I would be surprised if we have seen the last of the goals here today.

YELLOW CARD!  Robertson goes into the book for a cynical tug back on Maitland-Niles.

The resulting free kick is whipped in brilliantly by Torreira and Mustafi gets his head to it, but the flag is up. It would have been a huge chance had it not been offside - and Alisson just reacted in time to turn it against the bar - but the linesman made the correct decision.

This opening half an hour has flown by here. Liverpool responded so well to going behind - the mark of champions, dare I say - but Arsenal also shot themselves in the foot.

Poor from Kolasinac as he tries to knock the ball back to Leno, but puts too much on it and concedes a cheap corner. There have been a few of those misplaced passes from Arsenal's defence today.


GOAL!  Liverpool have a third goal, and they make it looks so easy too!

Salah races on to a long, raking pass over the top and cushions a volley straight into the path of Mane, who is left with a simple finish from close range! Poor defending once again, but it was a lovely touch from Salah.

YELLOW CARD!  Xhaka goes into the book for a challenge and then risks further punishment by kicking the ball away, but the referee opts for leniency and chooses against showing him a quickfire second yellow.

...and here is that goal from Mane which has put Liverpool in control of this contest.

Concern for Ramsey here as he kicks the foot of Wijnaldum and comes off worse. Arsenal will hope that is only an impact injury.

SHOT!  Aubameyang flicks the ball into the path of Maitland-Niles, who immediately turns and tries to go for goal, but lifts his finish well over.

SHOT!  Another half-chance for Arsenal as Mane loses possession inside his own half. The ball is worked into the box, where Ramsey tries an Henry-esque flick and volley which flies a long way over the crossbar.

PENALTY!  Liverpool have a penalty right at the end of the first half as Sokratis bundles Salah to ground from behind. It is another soft one, but it was clumsy from Sokratis.


GOAL!  Liverpool make ir four before half time as Salah blasts his penalty straight down the middle. Leno got a hand to it, but there was just too much power behind the strike. That could be game over.


Liverpool go into half time in complete control of this contest, racing into a 4-1 lead against Arsenal having actually gone behind early on.

Defensive mistakes have been the theme of that first half, but Liverpool have also produced a stunning performance to all but put this game to bed by the halfway stage. They are all set to go nine points clear at the top.

The opening game came for Arsenal after just 11 minutes as they stunned Liverpool with only the third goal they have conceded at home this season.

Maitland-Niles got the goal with a simple finish at the back post, having been found by a brilliant cross from Iwobi after Lovren had given the ball away.

Since then, though, it has been all about Liverpool, and just four minutes after falling behind they were in front courtesy of a quickfire brace from Firmino.

The Brazilian's first goal was down to a huge stroke of luck - and some poor Arsenal defending - as the ball pinballed around the area and past Leno, leaving Firmino with the simplest of finishes. The second was a moment of magic from the striker, though, as he skipped past two admittedly poor challenges before firing past Leno.

Sadio Mane got in on the act shortly after the half-hour mark when he tapped home following a lovely touch from Salah on the end of Robertson's raking diagonal pass - although the Arsenal defending was once again nowhere to be seen.

Three became four right on the stroke of half time too, with Salah firing home from the penalty spot after being bundled over by Sokratis in the area.

KICKOFF:  Arsenal get us back underway for the second half at Anfield, and unsurprisingly they have made a change at the break, with Laurent Koscielny replacing Mustafi.

Liverpool almost pick up exactly where they left off as Mane breaks into the box, but this time Sokratis gets his foot to the ball with his challenge inside the area.

CHANCE!  Liverpool are in no need to let up here. Shaqiri plays the ball into the path of Salah, whose first touch just lets him down and allows Leno to collect it.

Kolasinac goes down in the area when expecting a challenge from Shaqiri, but there is no contact and he is fortunate to avoid a yellow card. He escapes again moments later after dragging Wijnaldum cynically to ground, which earns him a glare from Michael Oliver.

CHANCE!  Arsenal are playing a lot better now, and they have the chance to pull a goal back here. Xhaka slides a lovely pass in to Ramsey, who chips an attempted finish over the keeper. It is going wide, but Aubameyang is there and somehow puts the ball over from pretty much underneath the crossbar. The offside flag spares his blushes, but the replay shows that it was a very close one.

SAVE!  Firmino goes in search of his hat-trick with an effort from the edge of the box which Leno keeps out in rather unconvincing fashion.

Liverpool began this second half really quickly, but they have just taken their foot off the pedal in the last five minutes or so, which has allowed Arsenal to grow back into the match.

Alexander-Arnold tries his luck from range, but his effort takes a deflection and goes behind for a corner.

Almost a chance for Lovren to make it two goals in two as Shaqiri knocks a cross back into the middle, but the Croat misses his kick.

LIVERPOOL SUB: Klopp makes his first change of the game as Mane is replaced by Jordan Henderson.

CHANCE!  Lovely from Salah as he flicks the ball into the path of Fabinho brilliantly. Fabinho drills his effort towards the near post, but Leno is down smartly to make a good save.

PENALTY!  Liverpool have a second penalty as Kolasinac barges into Lovren inside the area! Another clumsy challenge from an Arsenal defender.


GOAL!  It's a hat-trick for Roberto Firmino as Liverpool make it five against Arsenal! The Brazilian sends Leno the wrong way from the spot!

Just 20 minutes remaining now, and there are still more goals in this one for Liverpool. Klopp may be beginning to think about Manchester City next Thursday, but this is a statement from the hosts.

ARSENAL SUB: Change for Arsenal here as Alexandre Lacazette replaces Aubameyang.

Better from Arsenal as Lacazette sends Iwobi down the left and his ball into the box is flicked towards goal by Ramsey. Alisson gathers it, but needs two bites at the cherry.

SAVE!  Shaqiri tries his luck from range at the end of a really good move, but it is comfortable for Leno to collect.

Here is that Firmino penalty to complete his hat-trick...

LIVERPOOL SUB: Anfield rises as one to applaud Wijnaldum, who is replaced by Adam Lallana.

Just 10 minutes left in this match now and Arsenal will be desperate for the final whistle. This has been another match to forget at Anfield for the Gunners.

ARSENAL SUB: A third and final change for Arsenal as Kolasinac is replaced by Matteo Guendouzi.

LIVERPOOL SUB: The Anfield crowd is again on their feet - this time to serenade Robertson as he is replaced by Nathaniel Clyne.

SHOT!  The ball drops to Henderson and he is lining up the volley for a long time, but he fires it well off target.

Liverpool have taken their foot off the pedal in this second half, but that is understandable considering they have Man City next week. It has been another statement of intent from the Reds, though.

SHOT!  Alexander-Arnold tees up Henderson, but he curls his 25-yard effort wide when he should have done better.

There will be three minutes of added time at the end of this match.

CHANCE!  Salah bursts down the right and tires to squeeze his finish past Leno from a tight angle, but the keeper shovels the ball behind.


It is all over at Anfield as Liverpool run riot against Arsenal to bring 2018 to an end in style!

Liverpool actually fell behind to Ainsley Maitland-Niles's early opener, but they were ahead just four minutes after that courtesy of Roberto Firmino's quickfire brace. Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah then got in on the act before half time, and Firmino completed his hat-trick in the second half.

It is now nine Premier League wins on the bounce for Liverpool, and they sit nine points clear at the top of the table.

Right, that is all we have time for this evening!

Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole for today's remarkable match as Liverpool thrash Arsenal to move nine points clear at the top. I will leave you with our match report, and be sure to stick around for reaction too.

From me, though, it is goodbye for now!

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