Liverpool were fantastic; Arsenal fantastical; an embarrassing shambles; a pale, grotesque shadow of the side they should be. A parody. They were humiliated by Liverpool’s attacking power and pace but added to their miserable downfall with their lack of organisation and determination. Once behind, it was over. All over. They had no belief and no leadership.
It was summed up by the utter ridiculousness of Liverpool’s third goal; a concession that would have led to angry recriminations in Sunday league football never mind elite professional sport. Arsenal took a corner. But they left Hector Bellerin as their sole defender and when the ball was cleared to him he wafted a leg at it unconvincingly, trying to control it, with Mohamed Salah charging down and then running from deep in his own half to calmly steer a low shot beyond Petr Cech.
The second goal was not much less of a travesty for Arsenal as they, again, were attacking before they lost the ball inside the Liverpool penalty area. Then it was pass, pass, pass and a final pass from Roberto Firmino out to Sadio Mane who cut back across Rob Holding – what possessed the Arsenal defender to show him inside? – with the outstanding forward then curling a superb right-footed shot around Cech and into the corner of the net.
It was that bad. A Liverpool win, given the recent history of this fixture, was predictable enough and the manner of it was also wholly familiar. They were too quick and aggressive and incisive for Arsenal to cope and therefore laid down their own marker as to what this season could hold.
On this evidence there is only one side who could possibly be considered as potential title – or even top four – contenders. “We’re going to win the league,” sarcastically sang the travelling Arsenal fans followed by “we are staying up”. It was that painful for them.
Firmino also scored – the first goal – and it meant that Liverpool’s ridiculously rapid front-three – an ‘FMS’ triumvirate – all struck while the fourth goal was claimed by the striker they are keeping out of the team right now, Daniel Sturridge, who came on as a substitute.
How bad was this for Arsenal? It was up their among the worst performances ever in Arsene Wenger’s 21 years at the club and he acknowledged that as he muttered about “everything went wrong. From first to last minute... we were an easy opponent” in a predictably brief, and also somewhat incoherent, press conference.
It was as bad, if not worse, than performances such as the 5-1 slaughter here three years ago, when Liverpool scored four times in the opening 20 minutes, and the brutal 8-2 defeat away to Manchester United in 2011 although at least, then, Wenger had the mitigation of a makeshift line-up.
That was not the case here. In fact he even decided to start without his two big summer recruits – record signing Alexandre Lacazette, who appeared bemused, and Sead Kolasinac. And while Alexis Sanchez took to the pitch, for the first time this season, as he still hopes to leave (as does Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, wanted by Liverpool and applauded as he was substituted, and Shkodran Mustafi) he was withdrawn before the end and had that familiar look to him that says ‘get me out of here’.
So this side finished fifth last season and the two players brought in to improve it were left out? Inexplicably Bellerin was playing at left-back – again - with Kolasinac on the bench while Nacho Monreal drowned in defence where he was cruelly exposed.
This was supposed to be the season when Arsenal ended the uncertainty, when Wenger had signed his new contract and the distractions were over, when he would re-arm his team and re-build confidence. Back-to-back league defeats away to Stoke City and Liverpool have followed a fortunate win at home to Leicester City and the same demons are there. The same questions; the same failings. It is an enduring, maddening, interminable ‘ground-hog day’.