Neil Humphreys: Blame Rodgers' tactics for Arsenal loss
(Hector Bellerin 37, Mesut Oezil 40, Alexis Sanchez 45, Olivier Giroud 90+1)
(Jordan Henderson 76-pen)
Once is forgivable. Twice is awkward. Three times is simply unforgivable.
When Brendan Rodgers goes face to face in a high-stakes game of brinkmanship, he blinks first. Always.
He hesitates. He falters. He loses. It's a broken record that Liverpool supporters must be tired of hearing.
When Rodgers stands on the touchline with the game's coaching giants, he walks alone, a minnow among men.
Last night's humiliation at the Emirates Stadium wasn't even a fair fight.
The Reds battled with a handicap. In the dugout, it was man against boy.
In the end, the outcome was inevitable, just as it was against Chelsea last season and Manchester United a fortnight ago.
When Rodgers goes toe-to-toe with Jose Mourinho, Louis van Gaal and Arsene Wenger in contests of the highest magnitude, when entire seasons are at stake, the Liverpool manager shrinks and the Reds vanish.
In his pre-match interview, Wenger offered a wry smile when asked to explain the extra body in midfield.
He needed to curtail Liverpool's pace, he said.
It was check-mate before kick-off.
The Reds' midfield was effectively neutered, largely because of Rodgers' inexplicable decision to waste his most effective performer on the right.
Jordan Henderson was straitjacketed out wide, offering little attacking impetus while Joe Allen and Lucas Leiva were left exposed.
Liverpool played on banana skins, misplacing passes across their own box in a dreadfully disjointed display.
The wily Wenger switched Arsenal's emphasis to the opposite flank, where Hector Bellerin had a field day against the isolated Alberto Moreno.
Two of Arsenal's three goals involved the lively, young Spaniard (who, quite frankly, possesses greater long-term potential than the other 20-year-old on the pitch, Raheem Sterling).
With Liverpool lopsided and hopelessly exposed, it was left to a German to display the kind of ruthless efficiency typically associated with his countrymen.
Mesut Oezil is no metronome. He swings from sublime to statuesque from game to game, half to half and, occasionally, minute to minute.
In a frenetic burst of activity, he went from insipid to inspired in a matter of seconds.
Peering up from the centre circle, he swept a long, raking diagonal ball that popped up on Aaron Ramsey's laces on the right flank in the 37th minute.
The Welshman released Bellerin, who cut inside effortlessly and curled his effort around Simon Mignolet's hand.
Liverpool were two down three minutes later.
Fouled outside the penalty box, Oezil took a step to his left, so did Mignolet on the goal-line, and the German's free-kick spun past the poorly positioned goalkeeper.
Such sublime moments are tiny time capsules of Oezil's brilliance, little snapshots of his genius that only add to the frustration when he sleepwalks through games.
But he woke up long enough to put Liverpool to bed as their back four slipped into a coma.
Kolo Toure terrified the visitors every time he was in possession, which fortunately wasn't often. Two early mistakes went unpunished, but it was third time unlucky on the stroke of half-time.
Bellerin broke free again to pick out Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean's first touch left Toure in another postal code. His drive flew past Mignolet.
Liverpool hadn't conceded a goal on the road in the Premier League since Dec 14, when Robin van Persie netted at Old Trafford. They shipped three in eight minutes at the Emirates Stadium.
The goals might as well have been bullet holes in Rodgers' resume. His reputation is on the line until the end of the season.
The second half was an exercise in damage limitation, helped by a stupendous save from Mignolet to palm over Olivier Giroud's header.
Liverpool offered a token resistance in the final 15 minutes, earning a penalty when Sterling was pulled down. Henderson converted the spot-kick.
It was the skipper's only contribution of note. The same could be said for Sterling.
The restless winger wants more money or he's off to a bigger club. Last night, Sterling did little to prove he was worthy of one.
In the dying moments, Emre Can's late red card hammered the final nail in the coffin.
Giroud's superb strike in stoppage time plopped the cherry on Arsenal's sumptuous cake.
The Gunners are now second in the table and ready for Chelsea later in the month.
Liverpool are nowhere, out of the top four and all out of hope.
In the dugout, their manager is out of his depth.
LAST NIGHT'S OTHER RESULTS
- Man United 3 Aston Villa 1
- Everton 1 Southampton 0
- Leicester 2 West Ham 1
- Swansea 3 Hull 1
- West Brom 1 QPR 4
- Burnley v Tottenham
- Sunderland v Newcastle
- Crystal Palace v Man City
BY THE NUMBERS
The last time Liverpool were 3-0 down at half-time in a league game was 21 years ago, against Southampton. Then, in February 1994, the Saints beat Liverpool 4-2, thanks to a Matt Le Tissier hat-trick.
The good & the bad!
MAN OF THE MATCH
HECTOR BELLERIN (ARSENAL)
Perhaps lucky to stay on the field after an early yellow and giving away a penalty after fouling Raheem Sterling in the second half, the Spaniard was still the spark that fired Arsenal. When the Gunners looked off the pace, he broke free with the opener and released Sanchez for the third. He's still only 20 and doesn't go public with his contract dispute either.
CHECK-MATE IN MIDFIELD
Arsene Wenger tucked in an extra midfielder to cut the supply line to Sterling. Rodgers opted to put Jordan Henderson on the right and handed the initiative to Arsenal. Mesut Oezil would not have had the time and space to deliver that outstanding pass to set up Arsenal's opener if he'd been shadowed by Henderson.
Arsenal can't score boring goals. All four finishes were fabulous, either superb team goals or spectacular strikes.