By Richard Clarke
After knocking Real Madrid out of the Champions League in midweek, Arsène Wenger was asked if his side could "do a Liverpool".
That meant repeating the feats of the Anfield club last year who won Europe's top competition but did not finish high enough in the Premiership to qualify by right this season.
On the strength of this performance, it won't come to that.
Arsenal thoroughly deserved this vital, vital three points. The resilience and organisation that had stifled Real Madrid in midweek was on display once more against the current European champions.
Arsenal went ahead in the 21st minute when a gorgeous pass from Francesc Fabregas was met with a gorgeous finish by Thierry Henry.
The home side had chances to extend their lead and seemed to be cruising to victory until Luis Garcia nodded home the equaliser 14 minutes from time after Jens Lehmann had parried Steven Gerrard's long-range effort.
However the real drama was yet to come. Xabi Alonso was sent off for a second booking then, in the 83rd minute, Gerrard gifted Arsenal the winner. He needlessly, hopelessly passed back to Jose Reina only for Henry to intercept, round the keeper and fired home a priceless winner.
This victory takes Arsène Wenger's side back up to fifth, just two points adrift of Tottenham who currently occupy that fourth and final Champions League place.
Arsenal had just the one change from midweek. Jose Antonio Reyes dropped out of the squad and Emmanuel Adebayor, ineligible against Real Madrid, returned. The switch in personnel presupposed a change in formation from 4-5-1 from 4-4-2.
Arsenal were the first to show in a sparky opening. In the eighth minute, Henry sprinted to the right-hand byline and cut the ball back low for Adebayor at the near post. The Togolese striker leant back and sent his sidefoot shot horribly over the bar. He should have forced the keeper to save - or perhaps even more.
Alexander Hleb fired wide from distance just afterwards as the home side demonstrated their superiority.
By this time, Freddie Ljungberg was limping. On the quarter-hour he made way for Robert Pires.
Six minutes later, Arsenal got the goal they already deserved. Fabregas picked the ball in midfield and bided his time before playing a wonderfully-weighted ball between two defenders and into the path of Henry on the left-hand side.
The captain now had a clear sight of goal. He sprinted forward and clipped a curling shot just inside the far post as Reina rushed out to narrow the angle.
Arsenal looked to capitalise on their goal but, for all their pressure and fine approach play, it was Liverpool who should have scored next. On the half-hour, Steve Finnan swung the ball to the far post and Peter Crouch stole a yard of space from his marker before angling his header inches beyond the post. Lehmann would have powerless had it been inches inside the upright.
However Arsenal were to spurn an equally obvious chance straight afterwards Eboue exchanged passes who Adebayor on the edge of the area to leave the Ivorian defender left with just the keeper to beat. Instead of going for goal, he dithered and tried to square the ball for Pires. By that time, Jamie Carragher had got back. He booted the ball to safety over the bar.
There were signs that Liverpool were starting to rouse themselves as half time approached. Alonso fired over from distance and Luis Garcia sent an overhead kick a few feet wide.
In the final second of normal time, Gerrard latched on to a loose ball outside the area and bent a long-range effort just past Lehmann's left-hand upright.
Liverpool swapped full back Jan Kromkamp for winger Harry Kewell at the break. It was indication of their attitude for the second period.
However, after four minutes, the game could have been beyond them. Adebayor won the ball in midfield then clever interplay between Pires and Henry sent the striker clear on the left of the area. Highbury held its breath as the Frenchman poked the ball beyond Reina. Agonisingly it drifted wide.
Four minutes later Hleb's shrewd pass found Henry in space on the edge of the area. He got his shot away but could only direct it straight at Reina.
From then until the equaliser, Arsenal cruised. Liverpool offered very little and the home side seemed to have matters in hand.
That changed 14 minutes from time. Gerrard picked the loose ball in midfield and let fly with a swerving, dipping effort. The diving Lehmann could only punch the ball high into the area and Garcia outjumped Eboue to nod into the empty net.
Suddenly Liverpool looked re-vitalised. But they were stopped in their tracks within six minutes when Alonso received his second yellow card for a foul on Flamini.
Then, for no reason whatsoever, Gerrard tried to find Reina. Instead he discovered Henry, unmarked on the edge of the area. The result was inevitable.
In the dying minutes, Pires hit the post and Henry, on a hat-trick, forced Reina to stretch at the near post.
But, by that time, Arsenal already had what they wanted.
- Ljungberg 15
- Adebayor 68
- Henry Goal! Goal!
- Pires 15
- Bergkamp 68
- Kromkamp 45
- Hamann 73
- Alonso Red Card
- Garcia Goal! Yellow Card
- Kewell 45
- Fowler 73