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Unstoppable & undefendable; Van Dijk hails rocking Reds' title intent.

5 LIVERPOOL 1 ARSENAL JOHN CROSS AT ANFIELD

VIRGIL VAN DIJK called it an "almost perfect" performance.

Everyone else should look at it as hugely significant - because it sent the strongest message yet that Liverpool are ready to be crowned champions.

This was a big test for Liverpool, one of the top six at home and they fell behind to an early goal in a week when everyone has been talking about pressure and whether Jurgen Klopp's men could handle it.

Well, here was the answer in the most emphatic fashion.

They overwhelmed Arsenal, Anfield was rocking and this victory was an impressive step towards the title.

While Tottenham cracked, Liverpool showed Manchester City and the rest of the Premier League they have absolutely no intention of going the same way.

The anticipation could be felt in the air as the atmosphere crackled with excitement. And the remaining nine Premier League games at Anfield will only get more tense, building up to a crescendo after a 28-year wait.

Liverpool's front three all scored - Roberto Firmino a hat-trick, Sadio Mane and Mo Salah from the penalty spot - and this is a team that looks unstoppable.

Ex-Celtic ace van Dijk said: "We were almost perfect, we conceded the goal and that was the only thing.

"But it was an important win.

We have finished 2018 now pretty well and hopefully we can keep that going.

"Confidence is definitely here but it can change over a couple of games. We won't get carried away.

"We need to keep doing what we have been doing. There will be setbacks as there always is in life but it's how you react and so far we have been doing pretty well.

"At the beginning of the season people were saying the front three didn't click. They're fantastic.

"You see in this game as well and they can be undefendable. It's scary good players - and I'm happy to see that."

Liverpool also have options all over the pitch - no one is quite as good as Firmino, Salah and Mane of course - but they have back-up full-backs, centre-halves, the midfield is rotated each week and a world-class keeper in Alisson.

It was difficult to work out which of Firmino's first two goals was more embarrassing for Arsenal and their Sunday League style defending.

The goal where Stephan Lichtsteiner smashed it against Shkodran Mustafi to give Firmino an open goal. Or the one where they all fell at the Liverpool No.9's feet as he slalomed his way unchallenged through the box.

It feels like it can be Liverpool's year and rather than run away from the pressure or shy away from talking about Thursday's trip to Manchester City, they are ready for the challenge.

There is a fearless spirit running through the group, epitomised by Andy Robertson who is one of the many unsung heroes. The Scotland skipper has only been in the team just over a year but his name is sung as loudly as anyone by the Kop because of his never-say-die spirit.

Arsenal's performance was shambolic and boss Unai Emery, just six months into the job, insisted it will take the same sort of time Klopp was afforded at Liverpool to turn things around.

He said: "Defensively we need to be stronger. It's a very bad result but we need to say they are better than us at the moment.

"You can see the difference in the table and on the pitch. The performance was not good enough.

"But Liverpool three, four or five years ago were in the same situation as us. We need to be self-critical."

CAPTION(S):

HIGH FIVE Firmino is centre of attention as he's mobbed by Reds after goal No.5, above

ROB JOY Robertson roars in to celebrate with hat-trick hero Firmino after his second goal
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Dec 31, 2018
Words:637
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