LIVERPOOL – Liverpool rediscovered flashes of its most vibrant attacking form to repel an Arsenal rally and leapfrog Arsene Wenger’s men in the battle for Champions League places at a jubilant Anfield on Saturday.
Earlier in the day, Manchester United and an out-of-sorts Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed a chance to gain ground in the battle for Champions League places with a wasteful 1-1 draw against Bournemouth.
Goals from Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum put Liverpool into third place in the Premier League as the Reds completed their double over the Gunners with the type of performance — especially in the first half — they displayed regularly before the New Year.
Wenger was presented with another difficult evening as his decision to leave top scorer Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott on the bench hardly seemed justified amid Liverpool’s first-half dominance.
When he brought the Chilean on for the second half with Arsenal two down, the Gunners perked up with Sanchez setting up a Danny Welbeck goal in the 57th minute.
Yet even as Anfield grew increasingly nervous in a much more even affair, Wijnaldum ended the home fans’ worries by converting an injury-time strike.
“It was one of the best games we have played so far because of the strength of our opponent,” Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp declared to the BBC.
“We did really well. We had hard words after the defeat at Leicester (on Monday). We analyzed it and that wasn’t enjoyable.
“We had another opportunity and we took it today. It’s the rollercoaster of the Premier League.”
Liverpool looked nothing like a team that had won just twice in its last 12 matches, tearing into an Arsenal side that raised a few eyebrows with Welbeck and Olivier Giroud starting rather than Sanchez and Walcott.
Wenger described his decision to drop the league’s leading marksman Sanchez as “debatable”.
United’s League Cup-winning hero Ibrahimovic missed a penalty and 10-man Bournemouth battled to snatch a point in an incident-packed affair at Old Trafford.
United manager Jose Mourinho was left to rue missed opportunities after his side again failed to take maximum points from a game they dominated.
After a Marcos Rojo goal was answered by a Josh King penalty in a turbulent first half, United remained in sixth place with 49 points.
Ibrahimovic, fresh from scoring twice in United’s Wembley triumph over Southampton, had a wretched afternoon and not just because his second-half penalty, with the score at 1-1 was stopped by Artur Boruc, who gave an inspired performance.
Just before halftime, the Swede was fortunate not to be dismissed for elbowing Nathan Mings after the Bournemouth defender stood on his head as he lay on the pitch.
In the subsequent fracas, Bournemouth’s Andrew Surman pushed Ibrahimovic over and was sent off for drawing his second yellow card.
Ibrahimovic denied he had acted out of retaliation. “My intention was not to injure him but to protect myself,” he said.
Mourinho said United was to blame for missing out on three points.
“Who can I blame? Ourselves. Nobody else. We missed big chances. We felt the pressure of the clock running down and lost the quality of our attacking football,” he said.
Elsewhere defending champion Leicester continued its dramatic revival under caretaker boss Craig Shakespeare, coming from a goal down to beat Hull City 3-1 with strikes from Christian Fuchs, Riyad Mahrez and a Tom Huddlestone own goal. It was the Foxes’ second straight win since Claudio Ranieri was fired.
Hull currently has 21 points, one fewer than Middlebrough, which dropped into the relegation zone after losing 2-0 at Stoke City.
Crystal Palace got dazzling goals from Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend in a 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion, giving manager Sam Allardyce back-to-back victories.
Swansea’s revival under Paul Clement gained more momentum with a 3-2 win over Burnley — the club’s fourth victory in six games. Swansea has 27 points, alongside Leicester and Bournemouth.
In the day’s best match, Nathan Redmond struck twice and Manolo Gabbiadini scored a sixth goal in four games as Southampton edged Watford 4-3 at Vicarage Road.