Arsenal fear the power of Fowler

North London club's pursuit of Uefa Cup place threatened by new England striker
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The Independent Online
Arsenal fear the predatory finishing instincts of Liverpool's new England marksman Robbie Fowler could could come between them and a place in European competition when Liverpool visit Highbury tonight.

Fowler and his England team-mate Steve McManaman have persuaded Liverpool's manager, Roy Evans, to think again about his original intention to rest them for the trip. Evans is aware he could face criticism from Everton - plus other Uefa Cup-place chasers - if he fields a weakened team.

Victory over the FA Cup finalists will virtually ensure the Gunners fifth place in the Premiership and a place in Europe, but Fowler's return to north London provides a haunting reminder of past failures. Last season, his last-minute winner at Highbury put Arsenal briefly in the shadow of relegation and they subsequently needed to win two of their final three Premiership matches to be safe.

Fowler also scored a hat-trick against the Gunners at Anfield in December, and on Arsenal's previous visit he registered the Premiership's fastest- ever treble scoring his goals in just over four minutes. In addition, he will be keen to show the England coach, Terry Venables, that he has not lost his touch.

"Robbie and Steve are still just young lads who have taken a lot out of themselves with so many recent matches," Evans said. "If I decide it is right to leave them out, I'll do it but they both want to play."

His opposite number, Bruce Rioch, admitted: "Fowler has hurt Arsenal a lot - maybe this time we ought to tackle him in the tunnel before we go out there!"

The England captain, David Platt, was preparing for some hard work in Arsenal's midfield. "There is no way that Liverpool are just going to lie down and let us get the win we need. Some people might think they will have one eye on the FA Cup final and will take their foot off the pedal in the last couple of League matches, but I don't believe that.

"Their professional pride won't allow it and we know we'll have to earn the points. But it is very important to us to get into the Uefa Cup because playing in Europe has been a tradition at Arsenal for a number of years now. Heads were down after we went out of the Coca-Cola Cup in the semi- final at Aston Villa a couple of months ago, but we've picked things up again quite well and are still in the driving seat for the last Uefa Cup place."

Only Tottenham, two points behind, can overhaul Arsenal if the Gunners win tonight, and their north London neighbours finish the season with tough away trips to Leeds tomorrow and Newcastle on Sunday, while Arsenal meet the old club of their manager, Bruce Rioch, relegated Bolton, at Highbury on the final day.

Top scorer Ian Wright, though, is doubtful for tonight's match having pulled a groin muscle after scoring at Blackburn on Saturday.

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