Robbie Fowler continued his hot scoring run on a chill winter's day at Anfield. The Liverpool striker followed his two-goal blast against Manchester United last Sunday with a magnificent hat-trick against another of their title rivals. Fowler levelled in the first half after Ian Wright had put Arsenal ahead from the spot. Arsenal, however, could not contain the England Under-21 striker in the second half. Fowler scored two more to take the game out of the Gunners' reach and his Premiership tally for the season to 16.
It was a marvellous individual performance from a player who loves nothing better than gunning down the Gunners.
Last season in the corresponding fixture at Anfield he also scored a hat-trick. Today he was grateful to three assists from Stan Collymore, whose form in the past month has been a revelation.
Arsenal were without suspended central defenders Tony Adams and Steve Bould -- and it showed, particularly in the second half, as Fowler began to run the show.
Arsenal, however, made the best possible start by opening the scoring after seven minutes when Liverpool central defender Mark Wright was adjudged to have nudged Ian Wright. The Kop howled in disbelief but the Arsenal striker took no notice and gave goalkeeper David James no chance from the penalty spot.
Arsenal keeper David Seaman did superbly well to turn a fierce shot from Collymore around the post. Then he blocked another fierce effort from Michael Thomas as Liverpool stepped up the pace.
Arsenal were restricted to counter attacks and Paul Merson scooped the ball high over the bar with only David James to beat. Liverpool equalised five minutes before the break when Steve McManaman threaded the ball through to Collymore. He laid it off to Fowler, who delivered a perfect shot past Seaman into the top corner.
Liverpool were irresistible in the second half and it was no surprise when Fowler put them ahead in the 59th minute -- Mark Wright's free-kick being flicked on by Collymore. Fowler raced on to the loose ball and his finish was again clinical, the England keeper once more relegated to the role of a spectator. Fowler soon had a great chance of getting his hat-trick when he played a neat one-two with McManaman, only to fire over the top.
McManaman then saw a well hit volley from Jason McAteer's corner take a wicked deflection off the head of Martin Keown. Fowler's third goal duly arrived after 78 minutes. Collymore swung in the cross and Seaman appeared to have Fowler's header in his grasp. At the last minute, however, he spilled the ball and it trickled into the net.
Fowler was not finished, although Arsenal obviously were, and Seaman was forced to make a fine save after the young striker was released by McAteer. Robbie Fowler emphasised his England credentials today with a sparkling hat-trick in Liverpool's 3-1 win against Arsenal at Anfield.
Fowler has now scored 16 goals in the top flight and a total off 53 in 89 Premiership matches.
His impressive show helped Liverpool to the three points after Ian Wright had opened the scoring for Arsenal from the penalty spot after seven minutes.
Anfield manager Roy Evans saluted his 20-year-old striker, saying: "They were fantastic goals from Robbie, three clinical finishes. I am not trying to force Terry Venables and I know Robbie is in his mind. His last two performances will have helped him and -- like the Dutch striker, Patrick Kluivert -- he has shown that if you are good enough, you are old enough. Robbie certainly has that big match temperament. He is the least nervous of all our players coming into a big match.
For a lad of his age, his record is phenomenal. He's up there with the best off them."
Arsenal manager Bruce Rioch was bitterly disappointed with the manner of the defeat and is planning to rebuild the walls around Highbury. He said: "We were outplayed in the second half. We have got to get back to being a club that is ready to challenge for the title. We need to change one or two personnel at Arsenal. That might take the next three to four years. I know we were missing some key players today but you get an idea of what the team is like without them. There is obviously a great deal of work to be done. Liverpool are a good side, a youthful side, and perhaps that is the way forward for us."
About Fowler, Rioch said: "I saw him play at Blackburn reserves a few years ago. I thought then he was one to keep an eye on."
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