Stan Collymore put Arsenal out of their misery in the Premiership title race with a 51st minute strike at Highbury to keep second placed Liverpool on the heels of leaders Manchester United.
But Gunners' fans declared referee Gerald Ashby the real villain of the piece as far as they were concerned after he awarded a hotly-disputed 66th minute penalty from which Jason McAteer clinched the points with a follow up effort after David Seaman had blocked Robbie Fowler's spot kick. Worcester official Ashby had given the penalty when Fowler tumbled over England goalkeeper Seaman's dive at his feet. And even the Liverpool striker looked astonished when the spot-kick was given, spreading his arms in front of the North Bank as Arsenal players angrily surrounded the referee.
Ian Wright clipped the ball over David James as he stretched to meet a Dennis Bergkamp header to give the Gunners hope 11 minutes from time but Liverpool's blanket defending soaked up the inevitable late pressure which included a loud appeal for an Arsenal penalty after Wright went tumbling in the closing seconds. Referee Ashby turned his back on this one and walked off the field to a storm of booing.
Collymore, back in the Liverpool starting line-up after four matches on the bench, gave them the breakthrough they needed just after the interval, popping up to slot home the rebound after Seaman failed to hold a fierce drive by Stig-Inge Bjornebye.
Arsenal were unlucky to be trailing, but in the second half their inexperienced midfielders could not cope with the guile and drive of Steve McManaman, John Barnes and Jamie Redknapp.
Their clinical football on the break was the key to the visitors' victory, which puts them just three points behind United, with both sides having seven games left.
Arsenal must now consider themselves out of the chase after their third home League defeat of the season. All they needed was a decent break in the penalty box during a cat-and-mouse first half, in which they largely quelled Liverpool's passing game and had the edge through Bergkamp's subtle moves and solid all-round team display.
But Ian Wright, back after suspension, looked as though he needed the game and although Arsenal had more of the possession in the first 45 minutes, the clearest chances fell to Collymore in the first 14 minutes. Superb defending by Tony Adams and Martin Keown put the striker off his final shot, after he had moved menacingly into the box on the end of first a McManaman pass and then a miskick by Arsenal's David Platt.
Arsenal lacked the cutting edge to grab the lead they needed before the interval and their best chance went begging when Bergkamp sliced his shot over the bar following a low cross from Wright.
Arsenal's frustration really started when Bergkamp was booked for allegedly diving at the end of an intricate run, which took him past a string of Liverpool defenders to the edge of the box.
But after Collymore's breakthrough with his 14th goal of the season, referee Ashby saw it Fowler's way for the penalty.
Although the 28-goal striker had his shot beaten away by Seaman, it was McAteer who reacted quickest of all to slot home the loose ball.
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