Arsenal’s seventh successive victory confirmed Liverpool’s drop from the top four, and left Brendan Rodgers clinging on to the FA Cup to save Liverpool’s season. The most he can hope for is revenge at Wembley, assuming both sides reach the final on May 30.
Sterling dominated the headlines in the build-up to the match, having publicly discussed his contract situation at Liverpool and declared himself “flattered” with links to Arsenal.
The Gunners started the brighter side as the visitors nervously conceded possession in dangerous areas. With Joe Allen giving the ball away inside 30 seconds when facing his own goal, with Alexis ultimately shooting wide from 20 yards.
Simon Mignolet was called upon to save from Santi Cazorla and then Aaron Ramsey, the latter having been sent clear by former Arsenal man Kolo Toure’s mistake.
Liverpool’s moment came and went when Markovic drew the attention of David Ospina, only to mess up a simple square pass for Sterling – the ball narrowly eluding the forward with only the unguarded net in front of him.
It heralded a promising spell of play for Rodgers’s men, in which Sterling fired wide and Henderson going agonisingly close to collecting a cross from the 20-year-old inside the box.
Having failed to make that pressure count, Liverpool were punished three times in quick succession. First, Bellerin cut in from the right to curl a shot past Mignolet, who then saw Ozil’s precise free kick sail into the same corner three minutes later.
And the match was all but over by half-time when Alexis rifled home from the edge of the box, with questions to answer for Mignolet, who appeared to be caught flat-footed.
Sturridge was introduced for Markovic at the break, but Arsenal continued to push forward with the in-form Giroud’s header bringing an excellent save from Mignolet.
Ospina denied Can at the other end before Sterling was hacked down in the box by Bellerin, who was fortunate not to be shown a second yellow.
Henderson just squeezed his 76th-minute spot kick past Ospina but Liverpool’s hopes of a comeback were dashed when Can lunged in on Danny Welbeck to earn his marching orders, with Giroud’s 10th goal in as many matches wrapping up an excellent afternoon for the Gunners.
Gears have now been clicked for Arsenal and had they hit this form a bit earlier they might just of overhauled Chelsea at the top.