Soccer

Liverpool crushes Arsenal

AP, AFP-JIJI

Roberto Firmino scored his first Premier League hat trick as Liverpool rallied to a 5-1 win over Arsenal to open a nine-point lead at the top of the standings on Saturday.

Liverpool bounced back in emphatic style after falling behind in the 11th minute in another statement of intent as the team marches toward its first league title since 1990 and 19th overall.

Firmino equalized with a trademark no-look finish from close range three minutes later, put Liverpool ahead 2-1 with a brilliant solo goal, and capped the victory with a spot kick in the 65th after regular penalty taker Mohamed Salah deferred to the Brazil striker.

In between, Sadio Mane and Salah — also from the penalty spot — scored as Liverpool capitalized on an inept defensive performance from Arsenal.

It was the visitors’ heaviest loss since Unai Emery took charge in the offseason and the tame display revived memories of some of the poorer performances in the latter years of predecessor Arsene Wenger’s long reign.

Liverpool started the 20th round of the league with a six-point lead over second-placed Tottenham. That has been extended, with Spurs having been upset 3-1 at home against Wolverhampton Wanderers earlier in the day.

“I’m not the smartest person in the world,” Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said, “but I’m not an idiot. It’s not important how far you are ahead in December.”

Manchester City will climb back into second place if it beats Southampton on Sunday, but the gap at the top would still be seven points ahead of their meeting at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.

“It is a huge one,” Liverpool defender Andrew Robertson said. “Everyone in the squad has been looking at it. But in December we’ve knocked the games off one by one and we’ve now got a healthy lead.”

Liverpool is blowing away teams, with this ninth straight win coming three days after a 4-0 victory over Newcastle.

It didn’t start off so well, though. Liverpool fell behind in the league at Anfield for the first time since Dec. 30 last year when Alex Iwobi crossed for Ainsley Maitland-Niles to slot home at the far post. That was only the eighth goal Liverpool has conceded in the league this season.

“We haven’t conceded many,” Klopp said, “so we didn’t know what the reaction would be.”

Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk, who has added solidity to a defense which was once a real weakness, said the team wasn’t a finished product yet, but that it was a good moment to be a member of the squad.

“We still need to improve a lot of things but we are very happy with where we are at the moment we have to keep intensity high and continue in this way,” the 27-year-old told BT Sport.

“Anything is possible. We are in a good way, it’s tough but it’s a great time to be a Liverpool player.”

Having the Premier League’s most punishing schedule over the Christmas period caught up with Tottenham against Wolves.

It was the team’s third game in six days — there is another one coming up on Tuesday, too — and it showed at Wembley as Wolves dominated the second half and scored through Willy Boly, Raul Jimenez and Helder Costa.

Harry Kane, with a long-range effort off his left foot, netted for the third straight game to put Tottenham ahead in the 22nd minute.

“We were wrong in the way we tried to play, too much long ball and our energy dropped in the second half,” Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino said.

Fulham moved four points above Huddersfield with a 1-0 victory over the last-place team. Cardiff also in stoppage time to beat Leicester 1-0, with Victor Camarasa netting to earn the Welsh team its first away league win since getting promoted. Leicester was coming off impressive back-to-back wins over Chelsea and Manchester City.

Brighton beat Everton 1-0, and Watford drew 1-1 at home to Newcastle.

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