It is time to believe the hype. There was a sense Arsenal needed to take the scalp of an age-old nemesis to fully assert their credentials and they answered every question here. This was a see-sawing, fully engaging encounter but Mikel Arteta’s players were ultimately better in every department, performing with clarity and a rattling intensity against a Liverpool team more reliant on flashes and moments.
They had not scored in six games against these opponents but corrected that within a minute through the exceptional Gabriel Martinelli, who laid on the second for Bukayo Saka and then watched his teammate win the match with a penalty. Although Darwin Núñez and Roberto Firmino scored equalizers, a third would have flattered the visitors.
Jürgen Klopp has never been shy to express his admiration for Martinelli, such a dazzling and high-octane talent who plays with a relentlessness worthy of the German’s best teams, but must have been cursing him within 57 seconds. It is easy to observe that, week after week, Arsenal start games at a breathtaking tempo; nullifying it is more difficult, especially when an opponent offers the space Liverpool allowed in those early stages.
Nevertheless it was a sublimely executed goal of the type that has become so familiar here. A Liverpool attack failed to stick and immediately the ball was spirited to the right where Saka, in exactly the situation that suits him best, ate up the ground in front. A sideways pass to Martin Ødegaard and then, from the captain, a cutely-slipped ball between Joel Matip and Trent Alexander-Arnold: it was a classic Arteta-era combination but still needed finishing, which Martinelli did with aplomb on the run.
An entire game would be a long time to hold a lead. But Arsenal were rarely troubled for the next 25 minutes; Klopp had stuck with the four-man front line that he debuted against Rangers in midweek but most of the attempts to feed them were speculative. It felt telling when Mohamed Salah attempted to trick inside only to be pickpocketed by the left-back Takehiro Tomiyasu. The cheers were lusty: Tomiyasu, naturally right-sided, had been selected ahead of Kieran Tierney to handle Salah’s inverted threat and Arteta appeared to have executed a masterstroke.
Granit Xhaka forced Alisson to parry, although he was probably offside, and Martinelli accidentally caught Alexander-Arnold nasty on the ankle during his latest successful foray. But Arsenal lost some control and, although Liverpool’s play through the third was scratchy, the equalizer had been coming. Ramsdale had beaten away an angled Núñez effort and reacted even more impressively to prevent a William Saliba own goal; Salah, finally finding space, shot wide of the near post before Núñez made the pressure tell.
Liverpool’s keenness to find their front men via the early route finally paid dividends, Gabriel Magalhães misjudging a high ball from Alexander-Arnold and finding Diaz had scurried inside in anticipation. Diaz darted away and centered left for Núñez, on the stretch, to finish impressively. Klopp’s daring had found reward in the Uruguayan’s second top-flight goal.
He looked likely to be the happier at half-time, even though Diaz left with an injury soon after the goal. But Arsenal pushed again and, with the final action, made their latest purple patch count. Martinelli was the architect with a thrilling cocktail of speed and composure, carrying the ball from halfway and then, as Jordan Henderson backed off, completely outfoxing the midfielder and Alexander-Arnold when checking on to his right foot. His subsequent low, careful ball towards the far post caught everyone out except Saka, who converted from a yard.
Alexander-Arnold was replaced by Joe Gomez at the break; perhaps that whack from Martinelli had taken its toll but, less charitably, his opponent had roasted him all half. Alisson saved from Ødegaard in the 50th minute after Martinelli, unplayable at this point, had defied the odds to seize possession. Arsenal had roared out of the blocks yet again, smothering Liverpool, and it came as a genuine surprise when they were pegged back once more.
Like Martinelli’s goal, it was both immaculately worked and sloppily resisted. Henderson found Diogo Jota, who slid a smart ball down the right side of a wandering Saliba. The centre-back had no idea where Firmino, who had replaced Diaz, was lurking and punishment duly followed with a fine finish across Ramsdale.
The goal’s impact may have appeared profound but it did little to reverse the flow. Arsenal continued to excel through sharpness and structure; even if clear chances were elusive, Xhaka volleying over from a tight angle, it said plenty when Klopp replaced the now anonymous Salah with Fabinho for the final quarter.
Not that the change made any difference. Liverpool had barely survived a tornado of pressure when Thiago Alcántara, challenging Gabriel Jesus for Xhaka’s waist-high cross, was a shade too late. Michael Oliver awarded the spot-kick; Saka did the rest, after a lengthy kerfuffle, and this time Liverpool had no answer.