Mikel Arteta hailed Arsenal’s “character” as they returned to the top of the Premier League and plunged Liverpool into turmoil after Bukayo Saka’s double inspired a thrilling 3-2 win on Sunday.

Arteta’s side have emerged as title challengers and this hard-fought success at the Emirates Stadium was another significant statement of intent.

The Gunners took the lead inside the first minute through Gabriel Martinelli before Darwin Nunez equalised for Liverpool.

Saka put Arsenal back in front late in the first half, but although Roberto Firmino equalised after the interval, Saka’s nerveless penalty sealed Arsenal’s eighth win from their nine league matches.

Last weekend’s 3-1 win over Tottenham added to the growing feeling that Arteta has built a team worth taking seriously and the way they refused to be denied by Liverpool underlined that impression.

“It’s great, especially the way we played and the atmosphere we generated. We deserved to win,” Arteta said after Arsenal moved one point clear of second placed Manchester City.

“Liverpool were very efficient in the way they converted their chances, but we showed a lot of composure and character in difficult moments to overcome them.

“We needed to hang in there. The connection, the way the unit worked, I was really happy with that. The team dealt with it with a lot of maturity and composure.”

While Arsenal are on the up, Liverpool are in turmoil after their worst start for 10 years.

Without a win in their last three league games, Jurgen Klopp’s men are languishing 14 points behind Arsenal in 10th place.

They look a shadow of the side that came within two games of an unprecedented quadruple last season.

“I saw a team with the right attitude and put in a proper fight, but in the second half I didn’t see these football moments as much,” Klopp insisted.

“I don’t think it is a clear penalty, it is a very soft one. It is a situation where the referee could have another look at it in real time.”

Klopp had already conceded it was unlikely they would win the title after such a disappointing start and few would disagree now.

Although Klopp rejects claims his intense management style has worn down his players, on the seventh anniversary of the German’s appointment, the sight of Liverpool with only two wins from eight league games is jarring.

“We don’t have to look yet at the table, but we know where we are. We are not top. We have to sort it and we will,” Klopp said.

“Trent Alexander-Arnold is injured unfortunately. Like Luis Diaz, it doesn’t look good for both.”

Responding to Arteta’s plea to show “no fear”, Arsenal tore into Liverpool as they launched a blistering counter that gave them the lead after just 58 seconds.

Saka led the raid as he picked out Martin Odegaard’s run and the Dane slipped a pin-point pass through to Martinelli, who got behind Alexander-Arnold for a clinical finish from eight yards.

Sucker punch

Liverpool equalised in the 34th minute when Gabriel failed to cut out Alexander-Arnold’s long pass and Nunez flicked the ball into Luis Diaz’s path.

Diaz whipped over a superb low cross and Nunez slid in to flick his shot past Aaron Ramsdale from six yards.

Arsenal regained the lead deep into stoppage-time with a devastating sucker punch.

Thiago Alcantara carelessly surrendered possession and Martinelli teased Jordan Henderson and Alexander-Arnold before sliding over a low cross that Saka gleefully converted from close-range.

Firmino resumed his role as Arsenal’s long-time tormentor with his 10th goal in 17 games against them in the 53rd minute.

The Brazilian was picked out by Diogo Jota’s inch-perfect pass and his sublime finish into the far corner matched the quality of the assist.

Arsenal won it in the 76th minute when Thiago conceded a penalty with his challenge on Gabriel Jesus.

Saka held his nerve with an emphatic finish.