It was a promising if slightly odd lineup for the Gunners, but Arsenal—wearing black armbands in honor of their late former chairman Peter Hill-Wood—started the match on the back foot. Liverpool got off their marks quickly, giving Bernd Leno two scares inside of six minutes.
They couldn’t quite finish the moves, though, and after finding their feet, Arsenal hit back at about the ten-minute mark. A shot inside the box from Alex Iwobi drew a save from Liverpool keeper Alisson, and soon after the Gunners took the lead thanks to Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Maitland-Niles caught Iwobi’s cross and lofted it past Alisson, scoring his first goal for the club.
But Liverpool kept their foot on the gas and took the lead for themselves just four minutes later. The first goal was a bit unlucky—Stephan Lichtsteiner’s clearance rebounded off of another Arsenal defender and fell at the feet of Roberto Firmino, who tucked it past Leno. The second was an illustrative example of Arsenal’s shaky back line—Firmino barreled through Arsenal’s box, leaving a couple defenders sprawled on the turf, before putting the ball past an advancing Leno.
Arsenal kept it together for another fifteen minutes, with Iwobi and Aaron Ramsey troubling Liverpool at the other end of the pitch, but the Reds struck again with just over half an hour gone. A tired-looking Arsenal back line allowed Mohamed Salah to get onto the end of a long Andrew Robertson pass and then lob it to Sadio Mane, who tucked it into the top right corner.
Maitland-Niles and Ramsey got shots off in the dying minutes of the first half, both off target—AMN getting too cute and Ramsey without enough time—and as stoppage time began, a clumsy collision in Arsenal’s box between Salah and Sokratis prompted referee Michael Oliver to point to the spot. Leno got a few fingers to Salah’s penalty shot, but our keeper was going the wrong way and couldn’t keep the ball out of the net.
Unai Emery made a change at halftime, bringing on Laurent Koscielny in place of Skhodran Mustafi. Leno redeemed himself a bit with a good save two minutes into the second half, and Arsenal had another chance in the 54th minute, but Ramsey’s shot bent the wrong direction and an offside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed the follow-up chance anyway.
After a decent spell from Arsenal, and another two good saves from Leno, Liverpool were given another soft penalty, and Firmino put it away to seal his hat trick.
In a four-goal hole, Emery brought on Alexandre Lacazette in place of Aubameyang (probably the least bad option he had for substitutions at that point) and Matteo Guendouzi for Sead Kolasinac. To their credit, Arsenal didn’t pack it in, with Ramsey and Lacazette getting a few half chances. The Gunners should have had a penalty of their own when Lacazette was tripped in the box—it might not have changed the overall result, but would have changed goal difference figures.
After an 88th-minute shot from Jordan Henderson thumped the back wall right of goal, the game petered out a bit, despite enthusiastic coaching from Emery and Jürgen Klopp, both still shouting instructions from their technical areas. The match ended with a disappointing 5-1 scoreline in Liverpool’s favor.
It’s not surprising that the run of festive fixtures tires teams out, but today was the first match in which entire sections of the side looked fatigued—specifically, the back line and the rear of the midfield. Arsenal’s defenders, although not known for their pace, looked particularly sluggish today, and Lucas Torreira had an off day as well, probably gassed after starting so many matches this month.
Arsenal’s next matches are against 18th-place Fulham in the league on New Year’s Day—they should and desperately need to take all three points from that one—and Blackpool FC in the FA Cup on January 5.