Henry's hat-trick gives relieved Arsenal a treble to remember

Arsenal 4 Liverpool 2
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The Independent Football

Good Friday ultimately proved just that for Arsenal but for a while at Highbury yesterday it seemed the Premiership leaders were going to experience another bad day.

Good Friday ultimately proved just that for Arsenal but for a while at Highbury yesterday it seemed the Premiership leaders were going to experience another bad day.

Significantly, after a week in which their treble quest has been reduced to a singular target, they resoundingly dispelled the question mark which has hung over their character. Twice Liverpool, delivering a hot-and-cold performance which encapsulated their fitful season, led, both goals coming at psychologically important moments. Each time Arsenal rose to the challenge, no one more so than Thierry Henry. Making a recovery from Tuesday's injury which suggested he had undertaken a midweek trip to Lourdes he scored a hat-trick.

Arsenal thus extended this season's unbeaten league run to 31 matches and regained their seven-point cushion at the Premiership summit. With just seven matches remaining their 13th title now looks assured regardless of their result at Newcastle tomorrow. Depending on Chelsea's results it could even be clinched at White Hart Lane on 25 April, a prospect to thrill any Gooner, but they will probably have to wait until May.

"The team were fantastic," said Arsène Wenger. "The disappointment of losing on Tuesday [to Chelsea] was massive. The way we responded shows our mental strength is massive. If we had lost today we could have lost the lead over Easter. I said before the match it would be a big mental test but we made the test even bigger by coming in at half-time 2-1 down with heavy legs. When I spoke to them then I was positive. I am a great admirer of their human qualities. There is more to this team than winning games, there is a special bond."

Gérard Houllier, the Liverpool manager, said: "Arsenal were stunning in the second half. Not many teams would have competed with them. They are the best team in the country when they play like that. They were a wounded animal with something to prove."

Liverpool certainly tested their resolve taking the lead at each end of the first half. Arsenal had lingered in the dressing room beforehand, a ploy which may incur the wrath of the Football Association. If the idea was to pump up the atmosphere it backfired as Liverpool started the brighter winning a series of corners. From the third Steven Gerrard was left unmarked at the back post. He headed across goal and Sami Hyypia, stepping away from his marker, Sol Campbell, turned the ball in.

Arsenal were so stunned it that it was not until the 26th minute that they mounted a serious attack, Jerzy Dudek denying Freddie Ljungberg at the near post. Either side of this Hyypia and Owen could have scored. The Finn headed over and Owen lobbed over. Then Dietmar Hamann was mugged by Gilberto Silva in midfield, fairly said the referee, although Liverpool disagreed. Robert Pires curled it over the defence and Henry rolled his shot inside the far post.

Liverpool, having retreated into nine-man defence, came out to play again and, three minutes before the break, regained the lead. Gerrard, given space to pick a pass, threaded the ball behind Campbell for Owen to run off Kolo Touré and score.

It seemed Arsenal's season was about to turn to dust and, had Harry Kewell been on target in the 48th minute, it might have done. Henry stood up to be counted. "It seemed it would be one of those days," he said. "I'm sure people watching would have thought 'They're gone'. We're exhausted and I don't know how we'll play on Sunday. But you'd never have known that from the second half. We just don't want to give up a season's work."

These words were matched by deeds. Four minutes into the half Henry, on the left, fed Ljungberg who steered the ball into the path of Pires. Under pressure from Jamie Carragher he bundled a shot past Dudek. A minute later Henry picked up the ball and ran at Liverpool. He weaved past Hamann, dummied Carragher and Igor Biscan - so effectively that they crashed into one another - then slipped the ball past Dudek.

"It just looked as if he decided to score," Wenger said. "He made it look simple when you know at this level how difficult it is to go past players and score."

"It was something I did on the spur of the moment," Henry said, as if he was describing buying a new shirt. His hat-trick, the first of his 34-goal season, should have arrived after 68 minutes but he put a free header over. Not perfect after all. It merely delayed the inevitable. Nine minutes later Dennis Bergkamp chipped over Biscan and, although Dudek saved Henry's shot, the ball rebounded in off the striker. "We were down but we're not dead," Henry said. "Today was all about commitment and mentality."

With the usual exception of Gerrard, Liverpool could do with some of that. Their performance was typical of their season. Long periods of dour defence, interspersed with bursts of vibrant attack, threatened to deliver success only to succumb to anti-climax.

As a place in next season's Champions' League receded again, Houllier pleaded: "Tell Thierry to do the same against Newcastle."

Goals: Hyypia (5) 0-1; Henry (30) 1-1; Owen (42) 1-2; Pires (49) 2-2; Henry (50) 3-2; Henry (77) 4-2.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann 5; Lauren 7, Touré 4, Campbell 4, Cole 5; Ljungberg 5 (Keown, 90), Gilberto Silva 7, Vieira 8, Pires 7 (Edu 6, 71); Bergkamp 6, Henry 9. Substitutes not used: Shabaan (gk), Clichy, Reyes.

Liverpool (4-4-1-1): Dudek 5; Carragher 4, Biscan 4, Hyypia 5, Riise 5; Diouf 3 (Murphy, 84), Hamann 6, Gerrard 7, Kewell 5; Heskey 4 (Baros 4, 66); Owen 6. Substitutes not used: Luzi (gk), Henchoz, Cheyrou.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire) 5.

Bookings: Arsenal: Cole, Vieira, Lauren. Liverpool: Diouf.

Man of the match: Henry.

Attendance: 38,119.

Arsenal's run-in

Tomorrow: Newcastle United (a)

16 April: Leeds United (h)

25 April: Tottenham Hotspur (h)

1 May: Birmingham City (h)

4 May: Portsmouth (a)

8 May: Fulham (a)

15 May: Leicester City (h)

P W D L F A Pts

Arsenal 31 23 8 0 62 22 77

Chelsea 31 22 4 5 58 24 70