Arsenal returned to the top of the Premier League and plunged Liverpool’s into turmoil as Bukayo Saka’s double inspired a thrilling 3-2 win on Sunday. Mikel Arteta’s side have emerged as title challengers and this hard-fought success at the Emirates Stadium was another significant statement of intent. The Gunners took the lead inside the first minute through Gabriel Martinelli before Darwin Nunez equalised for Liverpool. Saka put Arsenal back in front late in the first half. Although Roberto Firmino equalised after the interval, Saka’s nerveless penalty sealed Arsenal’s eighth win from their nine league matches.
The Gunners are one point clear of champions Manchester City, who had taken pole position with a win over Southampton on Saturday.
Last weekend’s 3-1 win over Tottenham added to the growing feeling that Arteta has built a team worth taking seriously. The way they refused to be denied by Liverpool underlined that impression.
While Arsenal are on the up, Liverpool are in turmoil after their worst start for 10 years.
Without a win in their last three league games, Jurgen Klopp’s men are languishing 14 points behind Arsenal in 10th place. They look a shadow of the side that came within two games of an unprecedented quadruple last season.
Those painful near-misses in the Premier League title race and Champions League final appear to have left Liverpool with a hangover.
Klopp had already conceded it was unlikely they would win the title after such a disappointing start and few would disagree now.
Although Klopp rejects claims his intense management style has worn down his players, on the seventh anniversary of the German’s appointment, the sight of Liverpool with only two wins from eight league games is jarring.
Responding to Arteta’s plea to show “no fear”, Arsenal tore into Liverpool as they launched a blistering counter that gave them the lead after just 58 seconds.
Saka led the raid as he picked out Martin Odegaard’s run and the Dane slipped a pin-point pass through to Martinelli, who got behind Trent Alexander-Arnold for a clinical finish from eight yards.
It was another brutal moment for Alexander-Arnold amid the raging debate about the Liverpool right-back’s defensive flaws and the possibility he won’t make England’s World Cup squad.
Liverpool mustered a composed response, establishing a period of sustained pressure that culminated with a 34th minute equaliser.
Gabriel failed to cut out Alexander-Arnold’s long pass and Nunez flicked the ball into Luis Diaz’s path.
Diaz whipped over a superb low cross and Nunez slid in to flick his shot past Aaron Ramsdale from six yards.
But, despite spending a long spell on the back foot after Nunez’s goal, Arsenal regained the lead deep into stoppage-time with a devastating sucker punch.
Thiago Alcantara carelessly surrendered possession and Martinelli, bursting from the halfway line into the Liverpool area, teased Jordan Henderson and Alexander-Arnold before sliding over a low cross that Saka gleefully converted from close-range.
Alexander-Arnold was put out of his misery when Klopp replaced him with Joe Gomez at half-time and for a brief period Liverpool were back in the ascendancy.
Firmino, on for the injured Diaz, resumed his role as Arsenal’s long-time tormentor with his 10th goal in 17 games against them in the 53rd minute.
The Brazilian was picked out by Jota’s inch-perfect pass through the heart of the Arsenal defence and his sublime finish into the far corner matched the quality of the assist.
In their gloomy recent past that would have been the kind of blow that knocked Arsenal off course.
But this group are made of sterner stuff and they won it in the 76th minute when Thiago conceded a penalty with his challenge on Gabriel Jesus.
Saka infamously missed a crucial penalty in England’s Euro 2020 final defeat against Italy, but he held his nerve with an emphatic finish.
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