Wenger gives Liverpool his approval

by Ken Gaunt of "Press Association"

Robbie Fowler showed his thirst for the Coca-Cola Cup again tonight by helping to steer Liverpool through to the quarter-finals. The England striker scored twice in this battle of the Premiership heavyweights with Arsenal playing out the last 34 minutes with ten men after Steve Bould was sent off. Fowler loves this competition. He equalised for Liverpool in the third round at Charlton then twice more in the replay.

But his 12th goal of the season which gave Liverpool the lead tonight came in controversial circumstances. Fowler rattled the ball home from the penalty spot six minutes before half-time after referee Alan Wilkie had ruled that Lee Dixon had handled. The Arsenal players protested furiously after the incident, but Fowler remained cool to put Liverpool in the driving seat.

Steve McManaman had levelled for the home side in the 25th minute after Ian Wright's opener for Arsenal. England winger McManaman missed the 1-1 draw against Wimbledon on Saturday because of a niggling hamstring injury. But he proved in the early stages of this match there was little wrong with his fitness. McManaman put Liverpool back on level terms in the 25th minute with a towering header beyond keeper John Lukic after a superb cross from Stig Bjornebye on the left.

Arsenal, without Dennis Bergkamp, who had aggravated his thigh strain in the warm-up, had taken the lead after 12 minutes following an error by Neil Ruddock. Liverpool's central defender carelessly lost possession to John Hartson on the edge of the area. The Welsh international took the ball on, only to be floored by keeper David James. Wright stepped up to stun the Kop.

Liverpool extended their advantage with the third goal coming just seven minutes after the break. And again it was Fowler who found the target with his second goal of the game and his 13th of the season after a magnificent move. Jason McAteer played a one-two with McManaman with the Republic of Ireland defender breaking down the right. His low cross was inch perfect and Fowler racing in at the far post made no mistake.

Arsenal were rattled and they suffered a further setback in the 56th minute when Bould was sent off for his second bookable offence. Bould, who picked up his first yellow card after 54 seconds for a foul on Fowler, was dismissed for a reckless challenge on McManaman.

But Arsenal showed their fighting spirit by pulling a goal back in the 68th minute when Wright matched Fowler by getting his second of the match. Referee Wilkie awarded the third penalty of the night, and the second involving Hartson when the Arsenal forward was fouled by Mark Wright. Wright stepped up and produced another cool finish for his 18th goal of the season only for Liverpool to regain their two-goal advantage four minutes later. McManaman released McAteer and he picked out Patrik Berger, 25 yards out from the Arsenal goal. The Czech Republic star took one step forward then released a stunning shot into the bottom corner to take the game out of Arsenal's reach.

Arsene Wenger paid a glowing tribute to Liverpool after they had knocked his Arsenal side out of the Coca-Cola Cup tonight. The Gunners arrived at Anfield on a roll after only two defeats in the Premiership this season. But two goals by Robbie Fowler helped steer Liverpool's passage through this fourth round game with a 4-2 margin.

Steve McManaman and Patrik Berger were also on target while Ian Wright scored twice for Arsenal, both goals coming from the penalty spot. Wenger saw his side forced to play out the last 34 minutes with ten men as Steve Bould was sent off for his second bookable offence, the first one coming after only 50 seconds.

Wenger said: "I thought the first booking was bit harsh as it was the first time he was involved in the game. But you just have to accept these things. Liverpool are the best side we have played since I joined Arsenal. They deserved to win tonight. Physically they looked sharper than us and they won every one-one in every zone. There were many turns in the game and after their second goal it became very difficult for us. When you have ten men against 11 from Liverpool it becomes nearly impossible."

Wenger had to withdraw Dennis Bergkamp from his starting line-up as the Dutchman aggravated his thigh strain in the warm-up. "We didn't want to risk him," said the Highbury boss. Liverpool boss Roy Evans made three changes to the side that drew with Wimbledon with Dominic Matteo, Jamie Redknapp and Stan Collymore relegated to the subs bench.

Evans said: "That is as well as we have done all season. We looked much more compact. Sometimes you take a chance like I did and it makes a difference. It was a fine team performance. Our all-round play was good and the crowd gave us terrific backing. I am sure they enjoyed it."

Copyright - Press Association

Press' Liverpool man of the match awards
The Liverpool Echo: Jamie Redknapp.
90 Minutes: Michael Thomas (8/10).

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