Gerard Houllier invited Arsenal to storm the Bastille at Highbury yesterday, but the champions found they did not have the armoury to breach the defence he had constructed.
This was not the Liverpool we associate with a simple game, played economically, but one who put men behind the ball, defended stoically and broke ranks only on isolated occasions.
"Boring, boring Scousers," cried the north London faithful. And in truth there were only crumbs for those two highly-paid poachers Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen.
Yet Arsenal, without Dennis Bergkamp, had little ammunition, Nicolas Anelka a peripheral figure and Luis Boa Morte more a figure of fun.
There was never a danger of anything other than entente cordiale between Arsenal’s Wenger and Houllier, men who share a passion for football and taste for the best Burgundy. Old friends, the two Frenchmen have brought to the English game enough wit and wisdom for one to have won the title and the other to suggest that at some time in the very near future he will emulate that achievement.
Houllier, freed from the manacle of dual management, is proving he can handle the job extremely well on his own, thank you very much.
Liverpool's record against Arsenal encouraged optimism. Liverpool had won this fixture on three of their last four visits and Wenger had yet to win against the Merseysiders, who were without the suspended Stig Bjornebye and had Paul Ince suffering the after effects of flu.
Arsenal, although still without Bergkamp, Tony Adams and David Seaman, were relieved to have Marc Overmars back after a knee problem and Anelka returning to spearhead the attack.
The champions reflected their own run of four without defeat in the early phase of the game, playing comfortably within themselves and largely restricting the play to the Liverpool half of the field. Emmanuel Petit, who makes quality football seem like a gentle stroll, was orchestrating the probing from a position around the centre circle, his flowing ponytail encouraging comparison to a thoroughbred.
He was being ably assisted by the more urgent and darting Overmars down the left flank. With his repertoire of flicks and turns, it was a run by him that freed Boa Morte in the opening seconds, only for the Portugese to slice his shot wildly wide.
Vegard Heggem attempted an ambitious run at the Arsenal defence and was making tricky headway when he was tripped from behind by Steve Bould, for which the defender was cautioned, and Patrik Berger's free kick was deflected over the bar.
Liverpool's first scent of a chance came when Owen was given space in which to carry Berger's pass through the inside-left channel, and he had the edge on the chasing defenders, only to flick the ball with the outside of his boot into the side-netting.
Arsenal lost Bould in the 31st minute with a muscle injury sustained in a stretching challenge with Jamie Redknapp, and Matthew Upson, his replacement, ought to have scored with his first touch.
A late challenge by Phil Babb on Lee Dixon, for which he was booked, produced a free-kick swung in by Petit and deflected on by a defender, leaving Upson an easy header which he directed straight at James.
Liverpool might have snatched the lead in the last minute of the first half when Owen's deep cross was volleyed by Steve Harkness from beyond the far post, Alex Manninger making a dramatic, instinctive save.
In a hectic start to the second half, first Ince and then Martin Keown were cautioned for excessive challenges, Ince using his arm against Petit, but still the goal would not come for Arsenal, Anelka, Upson and Keown all having shots blocked in one goalmouth skirmish,
Anelka then had a free header as Ray Parlour centred from the right, but got underneath the ball and directed it over the bar, his frustration evident.
Redknapp became the fifth player cautioned, for a foul on Boa Morte, as Liverpool dug deep to restrain Arsenal, a task not eased by the loss of Steve Staunton with what looked like a groin strain, Dominic Matteo replacing him.
Yet Liverpool again came close to ending the deadlock when a foul by Petit on Ince gave Redknapp the opportunity to drive a 25-yard free-kick which extended Manninger, who dived to his left to take a clean catch.
Copyright - The Sunday Telegraph