Football: Liverpool survive Arsenal revival

PREMIERSHIP FOOTBALL: Arsenal 1 Liverpool 2: Disputed penalty at Highbury and stalemate on Teesside tight en the battles at top and bottom

Arsene Wenger has long insisted that Arsenal's title dreams are over. Now everyone believes him. The North London side were last night removed from the championship challenge by a Liverpool team that finally showed the cutting edge they have too often lacked.

Afterwards Arsenal dwelled on the controversial penalty, missed by Robbie Fowler but followed up by Jason McAteer, that effectively ended their campaign. But that was to miss the point. Liverpool deserved their victory while even a draw would have been of little use to Arsenal. Nor was the penalty, given after Fowler tumbled over David Seaman, so evidently a mistake: there is a case for suggesting Gerald Ashby was right.

Now the spotlight turns to Anfield and the morning of 19 April. Manchester United, three points clear of Liverpool, are the visitors. The match will not decide the Premiership but it will go a long way towards it.

Liverpool have not won the championship since 1990 and the wait is beginning to irk. Criticism of their casualness also appeared to have bitten. They played at a much higher tempo than usual, partly forced by Arsenal, and refused to sit on Stan Collymore's 50th-minute goal. Collymore, who could have scored three times by then, tapped that one in after Seaman, playing his first match for seven weeks, had fumbled a fierce shot from Stig Inge Bjornebye.

If that was galling for Seaman, worse was to follow 15 minutes later. Mark Wright had already beaten the offside trap with a long pass that Collymore thumped against the post when he released Fowler. As Seaman came out he poked the ball wide of him, then tumbled. Penalty?

Opinions differed, even after television replays. There was no contact but, had Fowler not taken evasive action, there probably would have been. Ashby signalled a penalty. However, having first reached for his pocket, he decided against further punishment for Seaman after being surrounded by nine Arsenal players and receiving a plea from Fowler.

"The game rested on that, and I didn't touch him," Seaman said. "Robbie said as much when he got up. I asked the referee to ask him, but he wouldn't. He shut himself off. Referees can change decisions. Why did he not book me or send me off?"

Roy Evans was less convinced. "It looked a penalty from where we sat," the Liverpool manager said. "On the television replay it looks as if the ball goes past Seaman and Robbie has to jump over him. Even if there was no contact he was still an obstruction."

Wenger said: "I think he knows it was wrong now, everybody does, but I can understand the referee taking the wrong decision. Unfortunately it killed the game."

The penalty, Liverpool's first away in the League since Boxing Day 1994, was taken by Fowler. It was an innocuous, sheepish kick and Seaman saved it. McAteer, who had never scored in the League for Liverpool, joyfully poked in the rebound. A few minutes later a fan rushed on to confront Ashby but was shepherded away by Platt.

Arsenal, driven on by a sense of injustice, went close through Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira before Ian Wright got in front of Bjorn Tore Kvarme to chip the ball over David James with 11 minutes left. He also claimed a penalty but to no avail; his appeals went the way of Arsenal's title hopes.

Arsenal (3-5-2) Seaman; Keown, Adams, Marshall (Garde, 70); Dixon (Parlour, 70), Platt, Vieira, Hughes (Shaw, 75), Winterburn; Bergkamp, Wright. Substitutes not used: Bould, Harper (gk).

Liverpool (3-5-2): James; Kvarme, Wright, Harkness; McAteer, Redknapp, Barnes, McManaman, Bjornebye; Collymore, Fowler (Thomas, 81). Substitutes not used: Ruddock, Berger, Kennedy, Warner (gk).

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).

Tony Adams will report to the England squad today but is unlikely to play against Mexico on Saturday because of an ankle injury. Steve McManaman (shin injury) is also doubtful. Dominic Matteo (back injury) will not be joining the England party.

Top of the Premiership

P W D L F A Pts

Man Utd 31 18 9 4 61 33 63

Liverpool 31 17 9 5 53 26 60

Arsenal 32 16 9 7 52 28 57

Newcastle 30 15 7 8 59 36 52

Remaining fixtures

MANCHESTER UNITED (GD +28)

5 Apr Derby (H); 12 Apr Blackburn (A); 19 Apr Liverpool (A); 3 May Leicester (A); 6 May Middlesbrough (H); 11 May West Ham (H). TBA Newcastle (H).

LIVERPOOL (GD +27)

6 Apr Coventry (H); 13 Apr Sunderland (A); 16 Apr Everton (A); 19 Apr Manchester Utd (H); 3 May Tottenham (H); 6 May Wimbledon (A); 11 May Sheff Wed (A).

ARSENAL (GD +24)

5 Apr Chelsea (A); 12 Apr Leicester (H); 19 Apr Blackburn (H); 21 Apr Coventry (A); 3 May Newcastle (H); 11 May Derby (A).

NEWCASTLE (GD +23)

5 Apr Sunderland (H); 13 Apr Sheff Wed (A); 16 Apr Chelsea (H); 19 Apr Derby (H); 3 May: Arsenal (A); 6 May: West Ham (A); 11 May: Nottm Forest (H). TBA Manchester Utd (A).

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