By Richard Clarke
After knocking Real Madrid out of the Champions League in
midweek, Arsène Wenger was asked if his side could "do a
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
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
Arsenal went ahead in the 21st minute when a gorgeous pass from
Francesc Fabregas was met with a gorgeous finish by Thierry
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
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
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.
Referee: Steve Bennett
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