GUNNERS SHOT DOWN AT ANFIELD
By Jamie Dixon
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
With the Anfield pitch looking uncharacteristically poor, it seemed the match would come down to which of the two clubs could adapt their passing style of play the better to accommodate the conditions.
And indeed it was Liverpool that seemed to be more comfortable on their home turf, and despite Arsenal enjoying the better of the possession in the first half, it was the home side that looked the more threatening going forward.
After absorbing some early attacking pressure, Liverpool looked to put their own stamp on the game, and were rewarded soon afterwards, when Steven Gerrard fired them into the lead with an unstoppable effort from some way out.
Having won a throw-in deep on the right flank, Markus Babbel launched the ball infield, and as Patrick Vieira rose to head clear he could only lay the ball back to Gerrard, who got a sight of goal and didn't hesitate in blasting it into the bottom corner.
Arsenal immediately looked to hit back after the goal, and the Liverpool players were caught napping as Thierry Henry ran through the midfield, but the home side soon manage to regain their composure.
Michael Owen then had a good chance to breakthrough the middle of the field for Liverpool, but as the ball ran away from him in the area he could only watch as Martin Keown thumped the ball clear.
A spate of end-to-end play then saw both teams have chances to alter the scoreline, but as the frustration mounted, the game was in danger of becoming scrappy, and tempers came close to boiling over as Dennis Bergkamp and Steven Gerrard clashed in the first of what was to be a series of incidents between the two players.
However, this was an isolated outburst, and although the tension was high in the game, tempers were otherwise kept under control and the game reached half time without further incident.
After the break, Arsenal looked to be determined to put themselves back on level terms as soon as possible, and they immediately looked to force Liverpool on to the back foot.
Dennis Bergkamp had a good chance to draw the visitors back level shortly after the interval, latching on to a headed clearance from an Arsenal corner to launch a powerful shot in, but Sander Westerveld did well to get his body behind the ball and deny the Dutch forward.
Liverpool then seemed content to absorb the attacking pressure that Arsenal were mounting, looking threatening as they broke quickly upfield on the counter-attack.
And it was from one such counter-attacking manoeuvre that The Reds doubled their lead. Emile Heskey collected the ball on the left, twisted and turned to take it infield, after he launched a powerful shot in from the edge of the area, Manninger could only parry the ball and Michael Owen was on hand to slide in and beat Silvinho to the ball to tap it into the net.
This gave Liverpool a very strong grip on the game, and it seemed that they would have to throw the game away if Arsenal were to get anything, but this did not prevent the visitors from battling and looking to press forward.
Shortly after the second goal, Wenger sent on French international Sylvain Wiltord to replace Ljungberg, in the hope of inspiring a more potent attacking style to their play.
But it wasn't to be for the visitors, and as Liverpool continued to soak up Arsenal's attacking play, they always looked likely to once again catch their guests on the break, and it was only a matter of time before Houllier's men were three up.
On 71 minutes, second half substitute Vladimir Smicer played the ball through to Nicky Barmby, who defied the offside trap to latch on to this pass and calmly slot the ball home past Manninger.
This all but killed off the game for Arsenal, and it seemed that Liverpool were now just happy to run the clock down and wait for the final whistle, but there was still time for one more showpiece move to cap a thoroughly miserable day for the travelling supporters.
With what was to prove to be the final kick of the game, Robbie Fowler latched on to another through ball for Liverpool and showed the attacking instinct, that his manager has been longing for him to rediscover, to slot the ball home in what was now the trademark move for the home side in the game.