Liverpool's 5-1 Demolition of Arsenal Had the Hallmark of Champions

Scott Burns@@scottb86Featured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2014

The scoreboard shows the final result as Liverpool beat Arsenal in their English Premier League soccer match at Anfield Stadium, Liverpool, England, Saturday Feb. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Jon Super/Associated Press

Liverpool's performance on Saturday was arguably their finest performance of the Premier League era and had the desire, strength and spirit of champions.

While Brendan Rodgers continues to rule his side out of the title race, there must be a few inside of Anfield who are perhaps starting to believe that 2014 could be the year of the underdog. Per usual, the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City have invested heavily to add to their already star-studded squads. Rodgers, on the other hand, has quietly blended together a mixture of youth and experience that appears to be paying off. 

Saturday's demolition of the then-top-of-the-league Gunners sent shock waves through English football as the Reds made a real statement that they can be genuine title contenders.

Six points off the top with 13 games remaining means they should certainly not be ignored.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 08:  Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool celebrates scoring the fourth goal with team-mate Raheem Sterling during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield on February 8, 2014 in Liverpool, England.
Michael Regan/Getty Images

With an attacking trio as exciting and as clinical as Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, talk of a title challenge at this stage of the season is inevitable.

It wasn't however just about Liverpool's attacking prowess. From back to front and to a man, they were simply sensational.

Simon Mignoletwho will be disappointed not to have kept a clean sheetwas on hand to make a number of saves when called upon, while the back four in front of him were superb.

Jon Flanagan, the 21-year-old defender, has been faultless when called upon and again put in a performance on Saturday that will have Glen Johnson sweating at the prospect of a battle to regain his place.

Martin Skrtel took his goals well and was imperious at the heart of the Reds defence, while Kolo Toure quickly put his West Brom howler behind him to lead by example.

Aly Cissokho gave arguably his best performance in a Liverpool shirt, while Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson pressed Arsenal's talented midfield to within an inch of their lives.

Special praise is reserved for playmaker Philippe Coutinho, who has often been accused of fading in and out games. Against Arsene Wenger's men and with the ball at his feet, he was a joy to watch.

Then there is Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling.

The Three Amigos were simply unplayable.

The movement and interchanging of positions between the three of them left Laurent Koscielny and co. bamboozled and praying that the final whistle would come to their rescue.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 01: Steven Gerrard of Liverpool applauds the fans at the final whistle  during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Hull City at Anfield on January 1, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/G
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Following the performance, Gerrard seemed reluctant to agree with his manager that his beloved Reds could not go on and win the title that he himself so desperately craves. The title this season may indeed turn out to be a bridge too far for Gerrard, Rodgers and co.

A place in next season Champions League would still be a fantastic achievement for a team that last season finished 28 points behind eventual champions Manchester United.

Retaining Suarez and building a team around the youthfulness of Flanagan, Coutinho and Sterlingwhose experience this season will be invaluable next—will see Liverpool go from strength to strength. Of course, one or two tweaks are needed, Liverpool, at the back, have at times this season been calamitous, but boy when they click, do they click!

Saturday's performance epitomises just how far Rodgers' side has come over the last year.

Rewind 12 months and Liverpool were criticised for their inability to beat a side in the top half of the Premier League table. In fact, it took them until February and a 5-0 win over a Swansea side with an eye on the Capital One Cup final to register a win over a side in the top 10.

This season the Reds beat Manchester United within a month of the season opening, while the last couple of months have seen them tear apart Tottenham, Everton and Arsenal with some breathtaking counterattacking football.

Despite sustained success in European competition, only one title challenge (2008/09) of note has been recorded.

Fans have hidden behind their hands as fierce rivals Manchester United have dominated English football and overtaken Liverpool's record of 18 league titles.

Proud Kopites have continued to remind the younger generation that there was a time where it was they who ruled supreme while others envied their success. Back in the '70s and '80s Liverpool did their talking on the pitch, while others around them purred at the sheer brilliance of Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush and Graeme Souness.

Saturday's victory brought back memories of a performance regarded by many as Liverpool's greatest ever: the 5-0 thrashing of Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest at Anfield in 1988. A performance that the legendary Tom Finney described as the finest he had ever witnessed.

As they were that back in 1988, Liverpool were magnificent right from the word go, tearing apart an Arsenal side that had lost only once to the Reds in 13 league games.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 15:  Jordan Henderson of Liverpool celebrates scoring their second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at White Hart Lane on December 15, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Mesut Ozil, the Gunners' record signing, looked a shadow of his former self and was outshone by the outstanding Jordan Henderson—a player who, in the opinion of this writer, is a future Liverpool captain in the making.

Arsene Wenger and his players were shell-shocked. The Frenchman looked as though he wanted the ground to open up and swallow him as his charges trundled off the Anfield pitch.

Gerrard himself ranked the performance in the top three of of distinguished Reds career, alongside memorable victories over some of Europe's elite in the Champions League.

This was Liverpool making a statement that they are serious players in the Premier League and are not making up the numbers at the top end of the table to simply just fade away.

Liverpool managers of the past have struggled to convince fans, the media and opposition alike that their sides can be genuine title contenders.

Rodgers—not for the want of trying—will now struggle to convince others that they are not.

If that isn't a sign of just how far the manager has brought the club over the last 18 months, then I'm not sure what is.

What do you readers think? Are Liverpool genuine title contenders or should they simply settle for a place in the top four? 

Leave your comments and opinions below. 


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