There was plenty of talk in certain quarters over the summer about whether Liverpool would have the same hunger this season having finally fulfilled their ultimate goal of clinching the Premier League title.
How does a team maintain such phenomenal levels of collective intensity and determination once they’ve reached the summit? Will they be able to motivate themselves to the same degree, or will some complacency set in? Is a natural drop-off inevitable?
All those kinds of questions were being asked repeatedly, but one of the greatest understated assets of this team is this their ability to block out all external noise and focus purely on the task ahead. The only motivation they need is their own, and they stop at absolutely nothing to uphold those standards of excellence.
Tonight Liverpool produced a footballing lesson so emphatic, so supreme, that Arsenal couldn’t cope with it. It was one which sent out yet another booming statement that they are still, by quite a distance, on another level to anything else in this league at this moment in time.
When Alexandre Lacazette scored the opener – gifted on a plate by the most bizarre of errors by Andy Robertson – it was so completely out of context with what had come before that it felt incongruous in the extreme. Rather than allow themselves to be consumed by frustration, though, Liverpool did what they often do by channelling their disappointment to positive effect.
If anything, they were only enhanced by the adversity, as though affronted by the fact Arsenal had the audacity to stick the ball in the back of the net having barely ventured beyond the half-way line in the opening 25 minutes.
Even before then, Liverpool were purring. They pressed with cohesion and aggression, passed with precision and punch, and generally suffocated Arsenal in a way which kept them continually penned back in their own final third, frequently resorting to hacking the ball out of play in desperation.
At 1-0 down, however, Liverpool played like they were angry. Angry at themselves for giving Arsenal hope when they deserved none. That attitude was encapsulated perfectly by Robertson, atoning for his earlier aberration by putting Liverpool 2-1 up after Sadio Mané had bagged a near-instant equaliser, ghosting into the penalty area before prodding the finish past Bernd Leno with the composure of a seasoned centre forward. He would’ve been furious with himself, but rather than hide away, he was there when his team needed him to make the difference.
Mané, too, played like a man possessed throughout, tormenting Arsenal’s back line with his ferocious tenacity and drive on the ball. On the other side, Mohamed Salah delivered another outstanding performance without getting on the scoresheet himself. Joe Gomez was imperious on his return to the side at the back, while Alisson stood strong to deny Lacazette on one of the rare occasions when Arsenal did break through in the second-half. Trent Alexander-Arnold also looked much closer to his usual self than he has in either of the two games so far.
As a unit, the midfield trio were exemplary both on and off the ball, allaying any fears that Liverpool would suffer without the presence of Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcântara.
Perhaps the one legitimate complaint which could be aimed in Liverpool’s direction was that they didn’t finish the game off sooner than the 88th minute, spurning multiple golden opportunities in the second-half to translate their vast superiority into a more comfortable scoreline.
In the end, when the killer goal finally materialised, it could hardly have been more perfect: an emphatic strike from Diogo Jota on his Anfield debut, volleyed sweetly into the bottom corner to cap-off an impressive late cameo from the bench.
It was the very least Liverpool deserved as they laid down their biggest marker of the season yet. The only shame is, we now have to wait until Thursday to see them in action again. On nights like this, they really are a privilege and a joy to watch.