“I’m trying to think back to the last time I saw Liverpool play like this,” said Sky Sports’ Gary Neville as Jurgen Klopp’s side, already three goals up on Arsenal, flooded forward in search of another.
There have been some good performances in the midst of their slump this season. Games where they merited more than they got. But rarely have they played quite like this. Rampant, ruthless, unrelenting. It was Liverpool as we know them best.
The goals arrived in a frantic 18-minute spell in the second half, substitute Diogo Jota scoring either side of a Mohamed Salah strike. But Arsenal were lucky to be level for as long as they were and they were fortunate, too, that Liverpool did not punish them further.
They certainly tried to.
Klopp’s side have a Champions League quarter-final away to Real Madrid in three days’ time but you wouldn’t have guessed it from the way Salah and Sadio Mane went haring forward in the final seconds of stoppage time, hungry for more.
There was little thought for conserving energy and it is when Liverpool are in this kind of mood, following their instincts rather than bending to inhibition, that they are at their most lethal.
The win is a huge one in the context of the top-four fight. Chelsea’s shock defeat to West Brom means Liverpool have closed the gap to the Champions League spots to just two points. But it is even bigger in terms of what it might do for them psychologically.
Liverpool have reminded us all what they look like at their brutal best but most importantly they have reminded themselves that they are still capable of reaching those levels.
“Even in some of the games when we lost, we were not bad, but tonight the package was extremely good and that’s what you need,” a beaming Klopp told Sky Sports afterwards. “Very good,” was his assessment of the performance. “A top game,” he added.
Klopp looked like a man who had just been reacquainted with an old friend. “Our counter-pressing was at the highest level,” he said, still grinning. “In general, the defending of the whole team looked exactly like it should look,” he added.
Indeed, it was not just the way in which Liverpool sliced Arsenal open that was so impressive. It was the intensity of their off-the-ball work and resilience of their patched-up defensive line. Liverpool were dominant all over the pitch. They looked like champions again.
Arsenal could barely lay a glove on them, as Neville put it. In fact, Liverpool restricted them to only three shots on goal over the course of the 90 minutes. It’s Arsenal’s second-lowest total in a Premier League game since the 2010/11 season, according to Opta.
Following their victories over RB Leipzig and Wolves before the international break, Liverpool have now won three consecutive games for the first time since October.
It is a statistic which underlines the extent of their inconsistency this season and demands a degree of caution when predicting where their season will go next.
But there is a sense that things are finally falling into place – even if they are still without long-term absentees Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Jordan Henderson.
“It’s the first time in the season, pretty much, when, apart from the long-term injuries, all of the boys are fit – and really fit, long enough back from injury and in really good shape,” said Klopp. “We will use that and hopefully it will help us.”
Saturday’s game showed it already is.
Jota was not talked about as much as Liverpool’s defensive absentees during his time on the sidelines but he had scored nine goals in 15 Premier League and Champions League games prior to his injury and his goalscoring return highlights how much he was missed.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – this Trent Alexander-Arnold – was missed too but his eye-catching display against Arsenal suggests his omission from the England squad could work to Liverpool’s advantage.
There was no self-pity, only enhanced determination, as shown by his moment of fist-pumping celebration after his brilliant cross was headed home by Jota for the opening goal.
The midfield has been significantly enhanced by the return of Fabinho, who has been pushed back into his favoured position thanks to Nat Phillips’ emergence alongside Ozan Kabak.
If that centre-back partnership really is an area of weakness, then Liverpool certainly did a good job of hiding it against Arsenal. Fabinho affords plenty of protection after all.
The Brazilian, outstanding in midfield against RB Leipzig and Wolves, was similarly impressive against Arsenal. “The best player on the pitch,” said Neville. He made twice as many tackles as any Liverpool player and his smart distribution helped them too.
Klopp name-dropped others as well.
Naby Keita did not make it off the bench at the Emirates Stadium but he is ready to make an impact after an injury-hit season, according to Klopp. The Liverpool manager said the same of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Liverpool will have to overcome tougher opposition than this “shabby” Arsenal side in the weeks ahead, of course, starting against Real Madrid on Tuesday night. But suddenly it seems a season of strife could yet end on a high note. Are Liverpool back? It certainly looked that way on Saturday night.