LONDON: Arsenal continued their eye-catching end-of-season form by cruising to a 4-1 win on Saturday that delivered a crushing blow to Liverpool's hopes of making a Champions League return.
While Arsenal cemented their spot in the top four, Liverpool's chances took a nosedive thanks to a first-half three-goal blitz at the Emirates Stadium.
Hector Bellerin, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez all scored inside the final eight minutes of the half as a depleted Liverpool were put to the sword.
Liverpool hit back via a Jordan Henderson penalty, but Emre Can was then sent off for a second yellow card and Olivier Giroud restored the hosts' three-goal advantage with a stoppage-time strike.
Liverpool were missing the suspended pair of Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtel, as well as the injured Adam Lallana, while Mario Balotelli was omitted altogether.
But Raheem Sterling started, three days after confirming that he had rejected a new contract offer and describing reported interest in him from Arsenal as "flattering".
Beaten 2-1 by Manchester United before the international break, Liverpool have now lost twice in succession leading to Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers admitting that it would be "very, very difficult" for his side to secure a place in the top four and return to the Champions League.
"It was a game we needed to take something from," said Rodgers. "Today is a big disappointment, but we didn't defend well enough in key moments of the game."
Meanwhile, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was thrilled with the result.
"It was a very great day," said Arsenal manager Wenger. "It was an important game today. We had the chance to make a difference with Liverpool and we took the chance.
"Their keeper kept them in the game and then they had a good chance before we scored, but we were focused, clinical, and I think if you look at the table and see the number of goals we score, it's no coincidence."
Arsenal secured the game in the first half
Liverpool packed the midfield and sought to use Sterling's pace as a lone frontman, but their game-plan did not work and goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was quickly required to save from Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey.
Liverpool were all at sea, but after 20 minutes they steadied the ship and began to apply pressure but it was short-lived as even though Arsenal's early fluidity and zip had disappeared, the hosts took the lead via Bellerin in the 37th minute.
It would get even worse for Liverpool three minutes later when Philippe Coutinho was guilty of tripping Ozil and the German stepped up to curl home a fine 25-yard free-kick.
Arsenal were not done there as they continued their purple patch with a stunning strike from Sanchez on the stroke of half-time.
Arsenal's counter-attacking abilities left Liverpool facing a daunting challenge in the second half, but Rodgers chanced his arm by introducing Daniel Sturridge in place of Markovic.
Liverpool were given a glimmer of hope when Sterling's quick feet lured Bellerin into a mis-timed tackle that prompted referee Anthony Taylor to point to the spot.
Henderson beat Ospina with a low shot to the goalkeeper's right that crept between the Colombian's right hand and the base of the left-hand post, but it was to prove no more than a consolation as Giroud stepped inside Toure and curled home from the edge of the box to register his seventh goal in seven games.
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