ARSENAL still cannot concentrate on next week's European Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final second leg in Italy. They have two more Premiership matches before then and Robbie Fowler's last-minute goal means they must win at least one of them to banish the possibility of relegation.
That will not happen unless they are far sharper in attack. Liverpool held them comfortably even after losing two defenders with injuries and could twice have won the game in the last few minutes, through Fowler and Steve McManaman, before the two players combined to do just that. It was Arsenal's sixth defeat in their last seven league games.
Arsenal's 3-0 drubbing at Anfield in August - when Fowler updated the record books with a hat-trick in four minutes - was an early indication that this would not be the championship season that some had predicted. By the time they were evicted from the Coca-Cola Cup on the same ground in January, George Graham was on the slide as well as his team.
Stewart Houston attempted to freshen up a jaded side last night by introducing David Hillier, Martin Keown and Eddie McGoldrick for Stephen Morrow, John Hartson and the indisposed Lee Dixon, using a back-line of five to match Liverpool's and pushing Paul Merson up with Ian Wright. Weight of numbers therefore favoured the defences.
Glenn Helder found John Scales a formidable covering defender
A lob and a header on to the top of the net from Wright and Keown respectively, and a shot by Merson that David James held, were the only moments to excite another good-sized Highbury crowd. Glenn Helder, who had taken Norwich apart in the last home League match, found John Scales a formidable covering defender when he occasionally managed to wriggle past Rob Jones, and McGoldrick's opportunites to attack down the right were limited by having the £2 million teenager Mark Kennedy to worry about.
Kennedy hugged the left touchline on his full debut, and he wasted a good opportunity when played in by Fowler, shooting carelessly wide, but also played in some crosses precise enough to keep Arsenal's three central defenders on their toes. It was just as well for the home side that there was no Ian Rush to steal in on them, a back injury sustained in Sunday's home defeat by Leeds having kept him out.
Injuries to Jones and then Scales forced Liverpool to reorganise without any significant weakening of their defensive solidity. The England right-back was replaced at half-time by Mark Wright, making a rare appearance, and 13 minutes later Scales made way for Mark Walters.
Michael Thomas became the third right-back they had used, his presence inevitably recalling memories of the famous goal that won Arsenal the championship on Merseyside in 1991.
The tension generated this time by Arsenal's very different League position led to niggling stalemate rather than any great drama. Adams and Bould both went into referee Martin Bodenham's book for fouls, to be followed by Fowler and Ruddock, who hauled down Merson as he threatened to go clear.
Scales had done the same thing earlier without punishment and the crowd's growing displeasure increased when the popular Helder was chosen to make way for John Hartson. David Seaman immediately had to make his first real save of the evening, from Fowler's rising drive.
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