Liverpool ended 2018 in the best possible fashion with an emphatic 5-1 thrashing of Arsenal.
An exceptional December has left the Reds in a position where they are 7 points clear ahead of a trip to the Etihad – a situation well beyond our wildest dreams at the start of December.
It wasn’t just the margin of victory that pleased me in this match – it was the way we came from behind.
This team suddenly knows how to handle pressure.
This is a key component to any team looking to win the title. In my opinion, the mentality of a player is what separates the good from the great. And given the events on Saturday, I think it’s safe to say we are up for the challenge.
In years gone by, the chance to open up a 9 point lead on our nearest rivals would have been spurned. This was a particular feature of the 2008/2009 title race, when we were unable to take advantage of Manchester United being in Japan for the World Club Challenge and we in fact failed to win a match whilst they were absent.
But this team is different. Jürgen Klopp went to great lengths to point out that there was little or no reaction to Spurs’ 3-1 defeat in the dressing room before the match, but I find that extremely difficult to believe. An opportunity to go 9 points clear, albeit for only 24 hours, would have been hammered home to the players – and it was an opportunity that we did not turn down.
But even during the game, the players picked themselves up from the blow of an early Arsenal goal. The sight of Virgil van Dijk walking back to the halfway line geeing up his team mates is exactly what you want from the captain and he is the cornerstone of this coolness under pressure. It takes some doing to dust yourself down and be in front within five minutes.
Arsenal are no mugs – they lack ability and nous defensively, but they are a perfectly capable attacking unit. When we fell behind, I was worried we were in for a torrid evening and we had opened ourselves up to being pinged on the break. However, not this team – this team is smart, this team is clinical and this team knows how to win matches.
In a way, Arsenal scoring first is the worst thing that could have happened to them. In poking the sleeping bear with a stick, they provoked Liverpool into an angry response. In the blink of an eye, Roberto Firmino’s quickfire double put the Reds in front and we spent the rest of the match mauling our prey. We were rarely troubled by Arsenal’s potent attack from the moment we went in front and we could have scored more than the 5 goals that we did.
It is extremely exciting that we were able to come back like that – it was almost as if the players were angry at Arsenal coming out of the blocks and opening the scoring. It was just the 8thgoal we’ve conceded in the league this season so far and I don’t think any other goal has stimulated such a reaction from our players.
We did launch a comeback at Turf Moor after falling behind to a very contentious goal, but that was a case of getting a foothold back into the game and we fought our way back into that one gradually before landing two crucial blows to take the lead.
We came roaring back against Arsenal in such a positive and confident manner that it’s impossible to not be impressed – we blitzed the Gunners into submission.
It’s only the 3rdtime so far this season we’ve fallen behind which given we’ve played 20 games is absolutely remarkable.
There is still a big test of our mentality to come – what happens if and when we do lose a game? That’s a bridge we’ll need to cross when we come to it. But this set of players and this manager do not seem in the mood to let one setback derail what is proving to be an extraordinary season.
*Odds subject to change.