Fab Arsenal claim spoils
By Alex Dunn. Last Updated: January 1, 1970 1:00am
Arsenal all but secured second spot with a 3-1 win over Liverpool, which as a result means Everton will be playing UEFA Champions League football next term.
Arsene Wenger's side dominated the first period and deservedly took a two-goal advantage through Robert Pires and Jose Antonio Reyes before Steven Gerrard netted to reduce the deficit in a second half won on points by the away side.
Francesc Fabregas capped off a fine individual display when he netted an excellent third goal in the final minute, after concise and inventive build-up play from Lauren and Dennis Bergkamp.
Rafa Benitez elected to select the side many predict will line-up in Istanbul but after a miserable first half in North London he may now have his doubts.
Xabi Alonso was back after an enforced absence in midweek but for Liverpool it was very much a case of after the Lord Mayor's Show, as lethargic limbs chased those in red and white.
Arsenal were at their stylish best and zipping the ball around an expectant Highbury, Liverpool were outclassed from the onset.
Within ten minutes and a linesman's flag had spared Jerzy Dudek's blushes when the erratic Pole had spilled Robin van Persie's shot to allow Reyes to net; albeit from an offside position.
Liverpool's response, initially at least, was full of spirit and were it not for a smart save from Jens Lehmann, then John Arne Riise would have found an opener after being found free in the box from Dietmar Hamann's lofted pass.
Thereafter and Arsenal were in cruise control as their pass and move game found Liverpool chasing shadows - with their diminutive general Fabregas picking passes at will.
It was the Spaniard that saw Highbury rise to its feet and then back down again after his beautifully arched effort smacked into Dudek's side netting.
Lauren was then found by Pires' scooped pass at the far post but his shot was parried onto the bar by Dudek, before his French provider hit a daisy cutter narrowly wide.
Having set his sights, Pires' next attempt was altogether more successful as he bent a free kick over the Liverpool wall and beyond Dudek at his near post in the 25th minute.
With Arsenal rampant a second goal always looked likely and when Pires found Reyes free on the edge of Liverpool's box, the Spanish striker capitalised on Jamie Carragher's uncharacteristic slip to accelerate into the area and dispatch past Dudek in some style.
One suspects a Benitez blast was still ringing in the ears of his team for the commencement of the second period, as it was a different side that entered the pitch after the break.
Aware that Champions League qualification would be beyond them with anything less than three points, Liverpool went for the jugular and were rewarded just five minutes in when Gerrard put his side back in the contest.
After Alonso theatrics won a free kick on the edge of Arsenal's box, Gerrard stepped up to reduce the deficit with a low drive past Lehmann - via a deflection off Fabregas.
Moments later and Gerrard went close to unlocking Arsenal's rearguard again when his exquisite through-ball found Luis Garcia but a lack of decisiveness allowed Ashley Cole to get back and make an important block.
Gerrard tested Lehmann with a trademark blast from range before Garcia sent the ball over after being fed by lively-if-erratic substitute Djibril Cisse.
Liverpool dominated possession for the majority of the remainder of the contest but it was Arsenal that went closest as Fabregas first had a goal disallowed for offside and then a strike from distance saved low at Dudek's feet.
The 17-year-old was the game's best performer and a sublime display was capped in the final minute when, after collecting Bergkamp's majestic flicked pass, he showed composure beyond his tender years to poke the ball past Dudek.
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