By Rob Kelly at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal scored three goals in the space of eight-first half minutes to put them on their way to a thrilling 4-1 victory against Liverpool at a raucous Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners set about the visitors from the very first whistle, hustling into tackles and hunting as packs as they sought to take control of the early exchanges.
Alexis and Santi Cazorla both went close within three minutes, before Aaron Ramsey forced Simon Mignolet into a sprawling save seconds later.
Despite their lightning-fast start, the hosts could not take advantage and should have fallen behind when Lazar Markovic and Raheem Sterling contrived to miss a golden opportunity.
But suddenly Arsenal took complete control with three magnificent goals.
Hector Bellerin got the ball rolling by curling a low drive into the bottom corner, before Mesut Ozil’s laser-guided free kick doubled their advantage.
The Emirates was in ecstasy and that only increased as Alexis Sanchez powered an unstoppable drive into the roof of the net.
Olivier Giroud came close to adding a fourth after the interval with a firm header, before Liverpool pulled one back through Jordan Henderson’s penalty.
Emre Can was then sent off late on, before Giroud capped off a fine afternoon with a curling effort in injury time to secure a ninth successive league victory at Emirates Stadium.
SETTING THE SCENE
After a fruitful break that saw a number of Arsenal players translate their fine domestic form to the international arena, a home clash against Liverpool was quite a return to Premier League action.
The visitors had been the top-flight’s form horse until their defeat to Manchester United last time out, and were chasing a victory in north London to keep their top-four hopes alive.
However, the Gunners came into the game in the midst of their best home run at Emirates Stadium in close to a decade, and with just the solitary defeat to Liverpool in their past 18 home matches. And with a squad boosted by the return of a number of key faces, optimism was rife ahead of kick off.
Wenger sprang a surprise with the addition of an extra midfielder to his side, as Ozil replaced Danny Welbeck and Aaron Ramsey lined up on the right flank. Elsewhere, Per Mertesacker took the armband as he returned to the heart of the defence at the expense of Gabriel, with Bellerin the final change as he came in for Calum Chambers.
Wojciech Szczesny was left out of the matchday squad due to a rib injury sustained in training, with the 20-year-old Matt Macey taking his place on the bench.
Much of the pre-match talk had surrounded Liverpool forward Sterling, and the 20-year-old started up front for the visitors. Daniel Sturridge - previously thought to have been ruled out - was named on the bench.
After six wins from six in March, the international break may have come at an inopportune moment for Arsenal but they wasted no time in refinding their rhythm here.
Within 21 seconds Alexis Sanchez had fired just wide, and minutes later Santi Cazorla’s low shot from inside the area was well saved by Simon Mignolet.
Sixty seconds later and the Gunners’ supercharged start saw them presented with their best chance yet as Aaron Ramsey preyed on a defensive error to race clean through on goal.
The Wales international entered the box before his left-footed drive was palmed away by Mignolet, with former Gunner Kolo Toure clearing the loose ball just as Cazorla was poised to knock it into the empty net.
It was a breathless, thrilling opening period but Liverpool steadily began to grow into the game and, with 18 minutes gone, they spurned a golden opportunity to open the scoring themselves.
Phillipe Coutinho had been quietly influential and he suddenly picked out Lazar Markovic to played him in on goal. The Serbian midfielder took a touch and, after drawing the onrushing David Ospina, rolled the ball across to Sterling in support. It looked a certain goal, but somehow his pass evaded his team-mate’s outstretched boot and drifted out for a goal kick.
It was a huge let-off for the hosts, but Brendan Rodgers’ side continued to press and they again went close soon afterwards when Sterling drilled a low shot just wide.
It was suddenly a much more even affair, with the balance of power shifting almost by the minute as both sides pushed and probed, waiting for their next opportunity to take control.
It arrived in the 37th minute - and what a moment it was Bellerin raced on to Ramsey’s pass, shimmied his way past two men in the area ands curled a left-footed strike into the bottom corner to give Arsenal the lead.
Moments later and the already raucous atmosphere inside Emirates Stadium reached a whole new level as the home side doubled their advantage with another beautiful strike. This time Ozil was the hero, curling home a sublime free kick from 20 yards after Cazorla had been flattened just outside the area.
But there was even better to come, as Alexis made it three right on the stroke of half time with a magnificent piledriver from the edge of the area after being found by Ramsey.
It was a fabulous end to the half for Wenger’s men, who went into the interval in total control of a game that had, some 10 minutes earlier, seemed in the balance.
The Gunners were determined to pick up from where they had left off, and they continued to press the visitors as they searched for another goals.
They nearly got it in the 56th minute when, after patient build up play on the edge of the Liverpool area, Giroud met Ozil’s cross from the right but saw his header palmed over by Mignolet.
Rodgers had opted to bring on Sturridge at the interval, but it was centre back Can who came closest to reducing the arrears with a fierce drive that Ospina did well to push away.
Try as they might, Liverpool were finding it hard to get any change out of the Arsenal defence and were forced to try their luck with speculative efforts from distance.
The second half certainly did not have the same frenetic feels as the first, but with the hosts 3-0 up and cruising, that was exactly how Wenger would have wanted it.
But with 15 minutes remaining, Bellerin tripped Sterling in the area and Henderson converted the resulting spot-kick to give Liverpool hope of a comeback.
But Can’s red card extinguished that, and the red-hot Gunners then added a fourth in injury time as Giroud made it 10 goals in his last 10 games with a curling strike into the far corner.
Referee: Anthony Taylor
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