If Arsenal’s ambitions at Anfield evaporated in one minute, one word from Arsene Wenger cast doubt on whether they will fulfil a season of promise.
‘We were feeble in every important domain of playing at the highest level,’ said Wenger. ‘So from that moment on it’s impossible to win. We were poor in every aspect.
‘I wouldn’t like to take anything away from Liverpool, but we did make it quite easy for them.’
Wenger looked in shock as he sifted through the wreckage of Arsenal’s humbling, the embarrassment of a dreadful performance far exceeding the moment he was left red-faced at Liverpool’s Lime Street station when he slipped on to his backside as he made his way to a train.
This is the time of the campaign when strong hearts and minds are required, but the fact Wenger felt compelled to describe Arsenal as feeble should sound the alarms ahead of a sequence of fixtures that will define what this squad can achieve.
Arsenal’s next three games are at home, but they comprise serious challenges in the shape of Manchester United in the Barclays Premier League, an FA Cup fifth-round tie against Liverpool and the first leg of a last-16 Champions League clash with Bayern Munich.
Beyond that, danger lurks again at every twist and turn. Arsenal’s next five away tasks are Stoke, Bayern, Tottenham, Chelsea and Everton — and continued feebleness would not just demolish their title aspirations, it would plunge their top-four hopes into doubt.
All their good work, all the credit they have built up, was obliterated in 20 frantic minutes as Liverpool scored four through Martin Skrtel (two), Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge.
The home side could have scored six, such was the complete disarray in Arsenal’s defence, with players squabbling and finger-pointing. Sterling added another goal in the second half before Mikel Arteta converted a consolation penalty.
The admirable Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain apart, Arsenal were wretched and no player epitomised their grim efforts more than Mesut Ozil.
Sportsmail’s Jamie Carragher had said in his column on Saturday that Ozil needed to start influencing games of this nature. In fact, the Germany midfielder was the problem. He barely raised a gallop and kept passing to those in red. Two of his abject errors led to Liverpool’s third and fourth goals.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard put his team’s demolition job on a par with intoxicating European nights against Juventus (a 2-1 win) in 2005 and Real Madrid (a 4-0 thumping) in 2009.
‘I’m trying to think of a performance I can remember in the last 15 years,’ said Gerrard. ‘Maybe one or two in the Champions League got close, but that was as explosive as it gets. That is right up there. That’s in the top three performances I have been involved in.
‘You are talking about a side who are top of the league with world-class players, ones who are worth £42million. Jack Wilshere, one of the country’s big hopes; Santi Cazorla, a World Cup winner.
‘We have absolutely demolished a top team from start to finish.’
Wenger is confident his side will come back with a strong performance against United on Wednesday.
Fail to deliver, though, and it will be impossible to escape the suspicion that they lack mental strength in the biggest games.
From five games with City, United, Chelsea and Liverpool, they have taken a miserable four points.
SUPER STAT: The last time Liverpool scored five goals against Arsenal at Anfield was in 1964. That season they went on to win their first title under Bill Shankly.
LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Mignolet 7; Flanagan 8, Skrtel 9, Toure 8, Cissokho 7; Gerrard 8 (Ibe 76min), Henderson 8; Sturridge 8 (Allen 66, 6), Coutinho 8, Sterling 9; Suarez 9 (Aspas 86). Subs not used: Jones, Luis Alberto, Moses, Kelly. Booked: Henderson.
ARSENAL (4-2-3-1): Szczesny 4; Sagna 4, Mertesacker 4, Koscielny 4, Monreal 3 (Gibbs 61, 5); Arteta 5, Wilshere 4; Oxlade-Chamberlain 6, Ozil 3 (Rosicky 60, 6), Cazorla 3; Giroud 4 (Podolski 60, 5). Subs not used: Fabianski, Bendtner, Jenkinson, Gnabry. Booked: Giroud, Wilshere.
Man of the match: Raheem Sterling.
Referee: Michael Oliver 8. – Daily Mail