By Richard Clarke
A hat-trick from Peter Crouch prevented Arsenal completing their own Anfield treble on Saturday.
Having triumphed at Liverpool in the FA Cup and Carling Cup in January, Arsène Wenger's side were looking to complete an unprecedented winning season on this ground. However they fell behind after only four minutes when Crouch slid home at the near post. The former Southampton forward would add to his tally in the 35th minute and completed his treble nine minutes from time.
Those goals were dissected by Daniel Agger's header on the hour and a scrambled effort from William Gallas after 73 minutes.
The Frenchman's strike brought forth the feint flicker of an Arsenal comeback. However, while the scoreline flattered Liverpool a little in terms of possession and territory, the home side always seemed the have complete control of this game.
Arsenal are now down to fourth in the Premiership table.
Wenger made five changes from the side beaten a mile across Stanley Park two weeks ago. Tomas Rosicky, Freddie Ljungberg and Justin Hoyte dropped to bench. Gilberto (hip) and Aliadiere (foot) had picked up injuries. Their replacements were: Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Eboue, Emanuel Adebayor, Alex Hleb and Denilson.
It was a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon at Anfield. Unfortunately this game had little importance in terms of trophies. Its only significance was over the local dispute these two sides were pursuing about third place.
Before either side had settled, Liverpool had the lead. Jermaine Pennant's clever back-flick sent Alvaro Arbeloa through on the right and his low cross was turned in at the near post by Crouch.
The home side had stolen the impetus but created only half-chances to add to their lead in the minutes that followed. As the half wore on, Arsenal would find their feet but, significantly, they would barely test Pepe Reina throughout the first 45 minutes.
One of their best chances came on the quarter-hour when Fabregas floated a corner to the edge of the six-yard box and Adebayor powered a header just over the bar.
Liverpool might have extended their lead when the increasingly influential Pennant fired his free-kick into the Arsenal area. Steven Gerrard nodded the ball down and Crouch's overhead kick looked destined for the top corner before Jens Lehmann plucked the ball out of the air.
Despite that, Arsenal continued to enjoy considerable possession however their attacks seemed to flounder on the edge of the Liverpool area. Real chances were rare so, when an unmarked Baptista sidefooted horribly wide from Adebayor's cut back in the 32nd minute you sensed it would be important.
Three minutes later, Pennant took a quick free-kick in midfield and fed Fabio Aurelio on the left. His pin-point cross found the head of the leaping Crouch, who diverted a header into top of Lehmann's net.
There was more urgency about Arsenal after the break. However Liverpool still seemed to be all too comfortable with their two-goal lead. In the 53rd minute the home side should have added to their lead when Mark Gonzalez broke down the left and crossed to Gerrard at the far post. The England midfielder slashed a shot at Lehmann and the keeper saved at the second attempt.
The play moved up the other end and Adebayor fired a long-range effort against the base of the post. Unfortunately the rebound eluded the onrushing Baptista.
The game was becoming more and more open. Gallas denied Crouch as the beanpole striker closed in on a hat-trick chance.
In fact Liverpool's third would not be far away. On the hour, Clichy fouled Pennant on the right. Aurelio curled over the free-kick and Agger nudged a header beyond Lehmann and into the far corner of the net.
Adebayor did everything he could to get Arsenal back into the game almost immediately. Baptista crossed to the near post the Togolese front man met the ball with a firm downward header. Somehow Reina managed to claw the ball onto the post. A wonderful save.
It would be Baptista's last meaningful touch. Shortly afterwards, Wenger withdrew him and Abou Diaby in favour of Freddie Ljungberg and Tomas Rosicky. To their credit, Arsenal kept going. Hleb fired over while the two substitutes added life to the visiting attack.
In the 73rd minute they got a goal. Fabregas' corner was nodded goalward by Toure at the near post. Reina got half a hand on the ball and Gallas snaffled the ball home from close range.
For a while Arsenal played like they believed a comeback was possible and the hushed nature of the Anfield crowd smacked of a certain nervousness. However Crouch completed his hat-trick by crashing home an effort from close-range nine minutes from time.
Aurelio nearly added the fifth a minute from time but the ball trickled wide. Arsenal had suffered enough for one day.
- Lehmann Yellow Card
- Gallas Goal!
- Eboue 83
- Fabregas Yellow Card
- Diaby 65 Yellow Card
- Julio Baptista 65
- Hoyte 83
- Rosicky 65
- Ljungberg 65
- Agger Goal!
- Gerrard 56
- Gonzalez 69
- Mascherano 82
- Crouch Goal! Goal! Goal!
- Riise 82
- Zenden 69
- Kuyt 56