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”.

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.

Lazar Markovic broke free, but the Serbian winger spurned a golden chance by overcooking a square pass to Sterling, enabling Arsenal to escape.

Manager Brendan Rodgers’s expression on the touchline said it all and he was off his seat moments later as Sterling drove a 20-yard shot wide after Arsenal had gifted him possession.

Arsenal’s early fluidity and zip had disappeared, but in an evenly poised game the hosts took the lead via Bellerin.

The young Spanish right-back was afforded too much room as he cut inside Alberto Moreno before curling home with his left in the 37th minute.

– Can reckless –

It would get even worse for Liverpool three minutes later. 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.

Gathering a pass from Ramsey, the Chilean cut inside Kolo Toure before unleashing a 20-yard rocket that flew past a stunned Mignolet.

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.

After Giroud’s header was athletically kept out by Mignolet in the 56th minute, Sturridge was immediately involved at the other end.

The striker’s clever pass found Can, who forced David Ospina, the Arsenal goalkeeper, into a smart save with a curling shot from 15 yards.

But with the fatal wounds having been inflicted prior to the interval, the second half threatened to turn into a non-event.

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.

And as Arsenal coasted to a 10th win in 11 league games, Can’s reckless late challenge on substitute Danny Welbeck saw him given his marching orders.

It would get worse in injury time as Giroud stepped inside Toure and curled home from the edge of the box to register his seventh goal in seven games.

Photo Credits : AFP