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Liverpool Echo report

IF EVER appearances could be said to be deceptive then the smile that cracked across Gerard Houllier's face as referee Graham Poll completed his hat-trick of red cards was the definitive example.

How three players could receive their marching orders is a question only the mysterious mind of the man in black could answer.

It was by no means a dirty clash. All the overzealous Poll succeeded in doing was to strangle the creative potential of two attractive footballing sides.

Both Houllier and counterpart Arsene Wenger were united in their condemnation of officials - and the crowd made their protests loud and long at the end of the game.

Liverpool never managed to show their best form in a disappointing display, particularly in the first half, but their shortcomings seemed insignificant in the face of the irrational decisions both teams were dealt.

The game exploded into life within the first minute when new £7.2million signing Lauren saw his shot saved by Liverpool keeper Sander Westerveld after being put through by live-wire Thierry Henry.

How much more of a genuine football match spectators would have been treated to before the flurry of cards was again hinted at when Nick Barmby latched on to a sweet Liverpool move only to see Brazilian Silvinho block his way. Penalty? Possibly, but impossible to tell with Poll in charge.

New boy Lauren again caused havoc deep into Liverpool's half and managed to earn a disputed corner from which Arsenal's opener arrived.

Silvinho's in-swinging cross was twice weakly punched by Westerveld. The big Dutch stopper was admittedly surrounded and jostled but will be disappointed not to have made firmer contact as the ball ricocheted its way to Lauren, who despatched his eight-yard shot hard into the net via the leg of Tony Adams.

Liverpool, employing a five-man midfield with Emile Heskey operating as the lone front man, struggled to find their rhythm.

Stephane Henchoz was colossal at the back and Arsenal were kept at bay despite the impressive contribution of Henry.

Disaster struck for Liverpool six minutes before the break when Gary McAllister was given his marching orders for a foul on Patrick Vieira.

The veteran midfielder can count himself unlucky. He mistimed his challenge and was helpless to prevent his leg catching the French midfielder, who writhed around the floor in a show of agony.

Houllier demanded better from his players during the interval and they responded with an improved showing as the game wore on.

Vladimir Smicer - a shadow of the player who was at the heart of his teams creative attacks against Bradford on Saturday - whipped in a corner which skipper Sami Hyypia headed goalwards. Grimandi cleared but the ball fell to the feet of Hamann, whose 30-yarder was well saved by Seaman.

Jamie Carragher and Vieira both picked up yellow cards for a brief flash point in the 70th minute - and that was the beginning of the end for the short-fused French international.

Barely a minute later - clearly still seething at his booking - he charged into a reckless tackle from behind on Hamann.

He succeeded in getting his feet to the ball but his general manner suggested he was no longer in full control of his actions.

Referee Poll, however, was saving his most bizarre decision until last. Hamann was battling for possession Robert Pires, both using their arms to gain an advantage and it would have been the best course of action to have waved play on.

But Poll decided to brandish a second yellow to Hamann to the amazement of an increasingly hostile crowd.

With just 19 players remaining on the field, Arsenal twisted the knife one final time.

Henry displayed all his class to round off a fluid passing move to double his team's advantage.

Houllier ended the game seething at the referee, but in the cold light of day this is three points lost against a fellow championship rival. There cannot be many more setbacks between now and May - no matter how many players are left on the pitch.

ARSENAL (4-4-2): Seaman; Luzhny, Keown, Adams, Silvinho; Lauren, Grimandi, Vieira, Pires; Bergkamp (Kanu 76), Henry.

LIVERPOOL (4-5-1): Westerveld; Babbel, Henchoz, Hyypia, Traore; Barmby (Murphy 76), Haman, McAllister, Carragher, Smicer (Owen 70); Heskey (Meijer 80).

REFEREE: Mr G Poll

ATTENDANCE: 38,014.

© Liverpool Daily Post & Echo 

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