Arsenal. . .2
ARSENAL are up and running, the championship favourites emerging from another dodgy start yesterday to assemble an irresistible second-half performance and claim a notable result, with encouraging historical connotations.
As Tony Adams was quick to point out, when they win at Anfield, as they did in 1989 and 1991, they win the title.
In their first two matches, in which they were beaten by Norwich City and Blackburn Rovers, they had looked anything but championship aspirants. This was more like it. They took a long time to get into their stride, and the first half was tedious beyond belief, but the longer it went the better they became, and by the end it was, as their followers chorused, the 'same old Arsenal, taking the piss'.
Their spirit and physical aggression was hugely impressive. Pussycats at Blackburn in midweek, they were leonine here, out-fighting Liverpool to gain the initiative, then out-playing them once they had it.
Much of the credit for the improvement was down to Ray Parlour, a 19-year-old making only his third start, who gave Arsenal the qualities their midfield has lacked since Paul Davis was at his peak. Aggressive, dynamic and mobile, Parlour was everywhere, completely upstaging one of his predecessors, Michael Thomas, and making Jan Molby look every one of his 15 (or is it 16) stones.
Molby's presence raised a question or two about Arsenal's continued omission of Paul Merson, their England striker, who is said to be six pounds overweight but looks sylph-like by comparison with some of his own team-mates, let alone the portly Dane.
Merson was as fit and eager as anyone after substituting for Anders Limpar, and even if appearances are deceptive, and he is carrying a little excess avoirdupois, it is a sad trend if players are now being judged on the scales rather than on the pitch.
Limpar's withdrawal, after 61 minutes, was the consequence of a sickening collision between his face and the boot with which Rob Jones was attempting to win the ball. Concussion and a damaged cheekbone will keep the Swedish winger out of Wednesday's friendly international in Norway.
The tempo, and temper, of the match was such that just about everyone was left nursing bruises and abrasions. On several occasions in the second half the physical aspect of the game threatened to get out of hand and, in keeping control, which he did well, the referee had to book five players: Lee Dixon, John Jensen, Parlour and Adams, of Arsenal, and Liverpool's Ronnie Whelan. It was rough and tough, but in a competitive rather than malevolent way.
Sky's hype merchants made much before the kick-off of the presence of Ruud Krol, one of Johan Cruyff's lieutenants when the Netherlands first gave us Total Football, but the first half will have been more to the liking of Russ Abbott, who was also among the VIPs. A maladroit madhouse from the first minute to the 45th, the lack of entertainment prompted a suggestion that Super Sunday change their theme tune from 'Alive And Kicking' to Springsteen's '57 Channels and Nothing On'.
It could only get better, we were assured. It did. Parlour's cross from the right enabled Limpar to end the stalemate with a crisp shot at the far post and, after 53 minutes, it was game on.
Arsenal bit hard in the tackle, Liverpool snapped back and the foul on Jones which brought Parlour his booking saw half the contents of the famous boot-room hurled on to the pitch in protest.
Limpar's injury and a tackle which saw Molby make bacon of Jensen stoked up the atmosphere, but if the crowd were upset, which they were, it was probably more to do with their team being out-played than any physical excesses on Arsenal's part.
Merson might have scored twice, demanding two high-calibre saves from David James, who also denied Parlour before Arsenal finally put the issue beyond doubt with their second goal, 10 minutes from time.
Parlour, inevitably, was the provider, his astute through-pass springing Liverpool's offside trap and inviting Ian Wright to run free before scoring with a 15-yard shot which looped up and in off James's sprawling body. 'Arsenal are back', chortled the hordes from Highbury before coming up with a new chant - 'Ooh-aah Ray Parlour' - to salute their new hero. It may not scan like McGrath or Cantona, but we will doubtless be hearing more of it. The boy can play.
Liverpool: James; Jones (Rosenthal, 76), Burrows, Molby, Whelan, Wright, Saunders, Tanner, McManaman, Walters, Thomas (Marsh, 47). Substitute not used: Grobbelaar (gk).
Arsenal: Seaman; Dixon, Winterburn, Hillier, Pates, Adams, Jensen, Wright, Campbell, Parlour, Limpar (Merson, 63). Substitutes not used: O'Leary, Miller (gk).
Referee: K Redfern (Whitley Bay).
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