Football: Arsenal punished by Barnes

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Arsenal. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Liverpool. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

THE old giant may be in fitful hibernation, but he is still dangerous when roused, and he stirred himself in the second half at Highbury yesterday to punch another large hole in Arsenal's championship aspirations.

The early-season favourites still think they can win the League, or so Tony Adams tells us, but 13 points is a lot of leeway to make up, and if the leaders, Norwich City, are peering apprehensively behind them it will be towards the North- west rather than North London.

Liverpool arrived without a win in seven games, and looked like making that eight in a mundane first half which served only to remind us how the mighty are fallen.

It had to get better, and mercifully it did, the second half producing John Barnes's decisive penalty, another by Paul Merson which David James saved, the dismissal of Nigel Winterburn and two straightforward chances which the Ian Rush of old would have accepted with his eyes shut.

This is not the Rush of old, of course, no more than it is the Liverpool of old, and he, and they, made hard work of what should have been a comfortable 3-0 win.

They were full of vim and vigour after two weeks without a game, and none more vigorous than Paul Stewart, who was lucky to emerge with nothing more serious than a booking for three early assaults, one of which saw David Hillier limp off, lame.

Arsenal did themselves no favours with the substitution, introducing David O'Leary in Hillier's central position, where he was a stranger in a strange land. With the game passing him by, it would have made sense to redeploy on the foundation of three central defenders, with the full-backs pushing on to bolster the midfield. Instead, inflexible to the last, they stood, and died, by good old 4-4-2.

Stewart's spite apart, the first half was tedious in the extreme with only Kevin Campbell summoning sufficient accuracy to demand a save.

Arsenal had introduced Jimmy Carter for his first start of the season with the aim of improving the service to Campbell and Alan Smith, but the winger was too plain and predictable to trouble a disciplined defence. His intentions tended to be telegraphed - Carter, the unstoppable fax machine.

Liverpool's second-half improvement should have had them two goals to the good by the 56th minute, but Rush's decline was reflected in back-to-back misses which would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago.

Put through by Barnes, the record-breaking striker had his team-mates clapping hands to their heads in disbelief when he toe-poked the ball wide from six yards. Worse was to follow. On dispossessing Andy Linighan he nudged the ball so far ahead of him that it ran out of play.

Much head-shaking greeted that second maladroit stumble, but Linighan, at least, still thought he was marking the Rush of yesteryear. There could be no other explanation for the panicky grab which floored the Welshman and enabled Barnes to beat David Seaman from the spot.

Arsenal had a penalty just three minutes later, when Campbell was knocked down by Mark Wright, but Merson opted for power rather than placement, and was thwarted by James's flying save.

Merson and Linighan threatened to restore equality, but Liverpool were the better side, and might have had a second when Rush shot against the post.

Arsenal's cup of woe overflowed three minutes from the end, when Winterburn became their first player to be sent off in the Premier League, for the second of two bookable fouls on Steve McManaman.

Arsenal: Seaman; Dixon, Winterburn, Hillier (O'Leary, 13; Heaney, 82), Linighan, Adams, Carter, Campbell, Smith, Merson, Parlour. Substitute not used: Miller (gk).

Liverpool: James; Marsh (Hutchison, 48), R Jones, Nicol, Wright, Bjornebye, McManaman, Redknapp, Rush, Barnes, Stewart. Substitutes not used: Walters, Hooper (gk).

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).

Photograph, page 26

More reports, pages 26, 27