Liverpool smash Arsenal in five-star performance

Liverpool's Martin Skrtel (centre) celebrates after scoring against Arsenal during their English Premier League match at Anfield Stadium, Liverpool, England, on Saturday February 8, 2014. (AP)

Liverpool re-energised their Premier League title challenge with a magnificent 5-1 rout of sorry leaders Arsenal on an afternoon of one-way traffic at Anfield on Saturday.

Brendan Rodgers's rampant side struck four times in the first 20 minutes, as Arsenal saw a run of 10 games without defeat in all competitions torn to shreds in brutal fashion.

Martin Skrtel scored twice in 10 minutes to spark the rout, with Raheem Sterling claiming a brace and Daniel Sturridge also finding the net before Mikel Arteta replied for Arsene Wenger's humbled Arsenal.

The one-sided victory lifted fourth-place Liverpool to within five points of Arsenal, a week before the sides are due to meet again at the Emirates Stadium in the fifth round of the FA Cup.

Liverpool's performance, meanwhile, suggested that they cannot be discounted from the title picture despite media projections of a three-horse race between Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City.

Seeking to return to winning ways after a 1-1 draw at West Bromwich Albion last weekend, Liverpool went ahead inside a minute when Skrtel kneed Steven Gerrard's free-kick past Wojciech Szczesny from close range.

The same combination doubled Liverpool's lead in the 10th minute, with Skrtel stooping to guide a looping header into the top-left corner from Gerrard's right-wing corner.

Sturridge lobbed wide and Luis Suarez hit the post with a blistering half-volley from outside the box before Sterling tucked in a low cross from Suarez to make it 3-0.

The fourth arrived in the 20th minute, Sturridge steering the ball past Szczesny from Philippe Coutinho's delicately weighted pass as Arsenal's travelling fans looked on in disbelieving horror.

Sterling scored at the second attempt in the 52nd minute to tighten the screw yet further, before Arteta netted from the penalty spot in the 69th minute after Gerrard was penalised for felling Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Arsenal's dejection could be compounded later on Saturday as both Manchester City and Chelsea will overtake them if they win their respective matches.

Chelsea, who won 1-0 at City on Monday, host Newcastle United, while City visit Norwich City.
In the late game, meanwhile, Swansea City tackle local rivals Cardiff City in their first match since Michael Laudrup was sacked as manager.

FULL TIME

Liverpool 5 (Skrtel 1"  10" Sterling 17" 52" Sturridge 20") Arsenal 1 (Arteta 69")

Liverpool have annihilated league leaders Arsenal 5-1 at Anfield making a mockery of their title ambitions.

It's a sensational scoreline which may perhaps ignite Liverpool's title ambitions after Brendan Rodgers threw in the towel before the match began.

Manchester City could overhaul leaders Arsenal who have 55 points while Liverpool remain on fourth with 50.

Arsenal have been dismantled and their title hopes in shatter by a rampant Liverpool 5-1 at Anfield on Saturday afternoon.

90+3" Cissokho has the final shot across goal before the final whistle goes to the relief of Arsenal.

90" There are three minutes of added time.

90" Arsene Wenger can only shake his head in dismay as another Arsenal corner goes waste.

87" Liverpool substitute Ibe has a shot at goal firing over the bar.

86" Sterling is denied a hat-trick by Szczesny after bursting past Gibbs on the edge of the box.

85" Suarez goes off making way for Aspas.

81" Arsenal get a free kick into the box but Toure manages to clear with Mertesacker lurking.

80" Suarez weaves through after slipping Arteta before being blocked by Koscielny.

79" Flanagan heads away a corner from Cazorla.

76" Skipper Gerrard leaves to a standing ovation making way for Ibe with Suarez taking on the captain's arm band.

74" Coutinho smashes one straight at Szczesny from the edge of the area.

73" Mignolet anticipates well to save Arteta's free kick which curls past the wall into the right corner.

72" Flanagan concedes a free kick after chopping down Wilshere who was charging towards the box.

69" GOAL! Arteta calmly slots home from the spot as Mignolet moves to his left.

Liverpool 5 (Skrtel 1"  10" Sterling 17" 52" Sturridge 20") Arsenal 1 (Arteta 69")

68" Gerrard concedes after bringing down Oxlade-Chamerlain in the box.

67" A superb break from infield by Coutinho finds Henderson who slices the chip wide of the left post.

66" Liverpool make their first change with Sturridge leaving to loud applause making way for Allen.

63" Szczesny makes a brilliant save barely tipping an audacious curling free kick from Suarez over in the corner.

62" Wilshere has a decent shot at goal with his left foot which is collected by Mignolet.

61" Arsenal throw in all three subs Podolski, Gibbs and Rosicky for Giroud, Monreal and Ozil.

58" YELLOW! Wilshere is booked a nasty challenge on his England team mate Sterling.

57" Oxlade-Chamberlain makes a decent strike straight at Mignolet as Arsenal have a shot at goal.

55" Sterling comes close to completing his hat-trick following a fine delivery from Gerrard with Szczesny scrambling to save it.

54" Arsenal concede a free kick as Koscielny brings down a charging Suarez.

52" GOAL! Sterling gets his second following a lovely through ball from Toure tapping it home on his second attempt after Szczesny manages to block the initial shot.

Liverpool 5 (Skrtel 1"  10" Sterling 17" 52" Sturridge 20") Arsenal 0

50" A Gerrard free kick is cleared to safety by Arsenal.

49" Sturridge heads a Surarez free kick wide.

47" YELLOW! Giroud is booked for dissent.

47" Cazorla's free kick from 30 yards takes a deflection off the top of the wall for a corner.

46" YELLOW! Anderson is the first to be book for a foul on Wilshere.

Rampant Liverpool get the second half underway with Arsenal having a mountain to climb.

HALF TIIME

Liverpool have floored league leaders Arsenal with four goals in the first 20 minutes beginning with a double by Skrtel followed by strikes from Sterling and Sturridge to the delight of the Anfield crowd.

Liverpool 4 (Skrtel 1"  10" Sterling 17" Sturridge 20") Arsenal 0

45+3" Arsenal manage to clear a Coutinho corner just before half time.

45" Arsenal show their frustration as Wilshere barges late into England captain Gerrard who was attempting to clear.

44" Arsenal forced on the back foot again as Sterling tries to steal possession.

42" Sterling breaks through but Flanagan's cross is wide and cleared by Sagna.

40" Arsenal get some respite as Monreal goes to ground following a challenge from Suarez.

38" Arsenal are finally looking like making an attempt to score as they pass the ball around before Gerrard makes a clearance.

36" Arsenal are seeing more of the ball now but the Anfield crowd are hungry for more goals from the Reds.

34" Liverpool's 4-0 lead over Arsenal  after 20 minutes is Liverpool's  quickest 4-0 lead in EPL history.

32" Arsenal haven't yet had a sniff at goal with an Ozil free-kick from the right only finding Mignolet.

28" This is only the second time in Premier League history that Arsenal have conceded four or more goals before half-time. The first was against Man Utd in 2001.

26" Liverpool have now scored 41 first half goals in the Premier League this season, at least 11 more than any other side.

24" Sturridge has scored in 14 of his 17 Premier League appearances this season.

22" Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is wringing his head after seeing his title dream in shatters.

20" GOAL! Sturridge may have driven home the final nail in the Arsenal coffin by latching onto a defence splitting pass from Coutinho following a counter attack.

Liverpool 4 (Skrtel 1"  10" Sterling 17" Sturridge 20") Arsenal 0

17" GOAL! Arsenal are shell shocked as Sterling slots home a pass from Suarez following another sweeping Liverpool move.

Liverpool 3 (Skrtel 1"  10" Sterling 17") Arsenal 0

15" Arsenal are reeling following the incredible start from the Reds.

13" Liverpool are on the rampage with a 30-yard volley from Suarez hitting the left post.

12" Sturridge misses a opportunity to go 3-0 up chipping wide over the advancing Mignolet after receiving a fine pass from Suarez.

10" GOAL! Liverpool are ecstatic after Skrtel heads home a corner from Gerrard for his second goal.

Liverpool 2 (Skrtel 1"  10") Arsenal 0

8" Skrtel comes to the rescue in defence after Mignolet fails to clear and the ball lands at Monreal's feet with the goal at his mercy.

4" Arsenal are on the defensive as Szczesny is forced to make a save after Sturridge shoots at goal from outside the box.

1" GOAL! Liverpool have made a dream start when Steven Gerrard's free kick from the left wing is jabbed into the net by Martin Skrtel.

Liverpool 1 (Skrtel 1") Arsenal 0

Premier League leaders Arsenal get this clash under way at Anfield.

There is a minute of applause for Tony Hateley, who passed away last week.

You Will Never Walk Alone is ringing around a sold-out Anfield with kick-off just moments away.

Players are making their way onto the pitch and the handshakes are taking place at Anfield.

Arsenal have 55 points from 24 matches and are two clear of Chelsea and City.

Liverpool sit fourth in the league, eight points behind leaders Arsenal with 14 matches of the season remaining.

PLAYING XI

Liverpool: 22 Mignolet, 38 Flanagan, 20 Cissokho, 08 Gerrard, 37 Skrtel, 04 Kolo Touré, 10 Coutinho, 14 Henderson, 07 Suarez, 31 Sterling, 15 Sturridge

Subs: 01 Jones, 06 Luis Alberto, 09 Iago Aspas, 12 Moses, 24 Allen, 33 Ibe, 34 Kelly

Arsenal: 01 Szczesny, 03 Sagna, 17 Monreal, 10 Wilshere, 04 Mertesacker, 06 Koscielny, 15 Oxlade-Chamberlain, 08 Arteta, 12 Giroud, 11 Özil, 19 Cazorla

Subs: 07 Rosicky, 09 Podolski, 21 Fabianski, 23 Bendtner, 25 Jenkinson, 28 Gibbs, 44 Gnabry

PREVIEW

League leaders Arsenal face the first major obstacle of their tough February assault course when they travel to Anfield on Saturday for the first of two meetings with Liverpool over successive weekends.

The chances of Arsene Wenger's side ending their nine-year wait for a trophy will be clearer by the end of a gruelling month.

With a home Premier League game against Manchester United, an FA Cup tie with Liverpool and a Champions League last-16 tie against Bayern Munich to follow Saturday's clash, a poor run could see them fall by the wayside in three competitions.

They lead the league by just two points from Manchester City, who travel to Norwich City, and Chelsea, who are at home to Newcastle United, and defeat at Anfield could see them slip to third.

The Londoners, however, are a team in form, have not lost on their last six Premier League visits to Anfield and could be boosted as they seek a third successive win there by the return of Jack Wilshere after injury.

He could line up in midfield alongside Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who scored both goals in Sunday's 2-0 win over Crystal Palace.

Arsenal will be without the suspended Mathieu Flamini, injured Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott, but their confidence is sky high after six wins in their last seven league matches.

Defeat for Liverpool would leave them 11 points off the top and manager Brendan Rodgers feels an assault on the title is now out of the question.

"I wouldn't say we will be challenging for the title this season, but will we play a part in it? Of course we will and we want to finish as high as we can," he said.

"We will be fighting right to the very end, but if I am asked for an honest answer I would say it's too soon for us."

BOUNCE BACK


Manchester City, who missed the chance to knock Arsenal off the summit on Monday, when they lost 1-0 at home to Chelsea, travel to Norwich, who they beat 7-0 in November.

They will be eager to rebound immediately after losing their perfect home league record as well as their 20-game unbeaten streak.

Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho fooled no-one on Monday when he described his side, who could be top by the end of the weekend, as "a little horse that needed milk" in a race with the "two big horses" of Arsenal and City.

Although Tottenham Hotspur and Everton have no realistic chance of winning the title, they meet at White Hart Lane on Sunday in a match that could well define their league aspirations.

The race for fourth and Champions League qualification is likely to go the wire with Liverpool currently in the box-seat on 47 points.

Everton are fifth on 45 points, one point and one place above Spurs, who are four clear of Manchester United.

With United at home against a bottom-of-the-table Fulham side in dreadful form, neither Spurs nor Everton will want to drop points in Sunday's lunchtime match at White Hart Lane.

ROCK BOTTOM

Eleven clubs are entwined in the battle to avoid the drop.

Swansea City, who are 12th, but without a manager after parting company with Michael Laudrup on Tuesday, are only two points clear of the drop zone which currently has West Ham United, Cardiff City and Fulham in its clutches.

Fulham have lost their last four league matches and were abject in their 1-0 extra-time defeat to League One (third tier) strugglers Sheffield United in an FA Cup fourth round replay at Craven Cottage on Tuesday.

Despite United's indifferent form under coach David Moyes, anything other than a resounding win against Fulham, now coached by former United assistant Rene Meulensteen, would be one of the season's major upsets.

Meulensteen, who has been Fulham coach for two months, described Tuesday's performance as their worst since he arrived, saying they had reached "rock bottom" and they needed to improve rapidly if they are to survive.

West Ham will be without banned striker Andy Carroll for their visit to erratic Aston Villa, who are still not safe despite sitting in 10th spot.

Cardiff travel to Swansea for what is always a fiercely-fought South Wales derby, hoping to twist the knife even further into the Swans following Laudrup's departure.

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