Liverpool 1 Arsenal 0: Garcia's late strike rewards Liverpool to inflict new blow on Arsenal morale

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The Independent Online

Luis Garcia can claim to have stolen the show with his 87th-minute winning goal but to know its significance to Arsenal last night you only had to glance away from the Kop and towards Thierry Henry, who stamped his feet in pure desolation. As their new £650m stadium rises in Islington so Arsenal's season crumbles around them.

Another chance to haul themselves closer to Tottenham Hotspur, four points clear in the fourth Champions' League place, slipped away from them and this was not a night to claim a broken heart.

Arsène Wenger's side deserved nothing from a match in which Liverpool dominated and Steven Gerrard missed a penalty in the first half. Arsenal have nine points from the last 24 available and last night was their ninth loss of the season.

What will have hurt even more last night was the utter absence of leadership from senior players like Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg and, for long periods, Henry, who disappeared into the Merseyside night having scarcely registered their presence.

These are gloomy times indeed at Highbury when even Wenger cannot reason away his side's desperate form. "What can we do now?" he said. "I cannot tell you we have won; we have lost. The reality is that we must fight back and win."

The reality last night was that they were left clinging to a fragile belief that something can be rescued from a season in which their next opponents will be Real Madrid in Spain on Tuesday. All that will have baffled the emissaries from Spain will have been how their old boy Fernando Morientes conspired to miss so many good chances; in comparison, Arsenal's problems were painfully uncomplicated. Their best player was the goalkeeper Jens Lehmann.

His save from Gerrard's penalty on 31 minutes was exceptional, flinging himself to his right to deflect away the ball. That the Liverpool captain was never called upon to take that potentially decisive fifth penalty in Istanbul in May is something that Anfield may secretly give thanks for having seen his effort last night. "I'll have to give Luis a kiss when I see him," Gerrard said, and the Spaniard's St Valentine's night gift to his team-mates could yet prove crucial.

With Sir Alex Ferguson in the crowd, Liverpool finished the game within three points of Manchester United in second place and six head of Spurs in fourth.

The Spanish international had been on the pitch for just four minutes when he seized upon the rebound from Lehmann - who had stopped a low drive from the substitute Dietmar Hamann - and poked the ball in from close range.

"Unbelievable," was how Rafael Benitez described the effort of Lehmann to keep out his team, who have now gathered themselves again after a run of four games without a win that ended against Wigan at the weekend. Benitez concerned himself, in the main, with defending the partnership of Robbie Fowler and Morientes which offered glimpses of the 30-year-old Englishman at his best but precious little of the Spaniard.

Morientes won the penalty, the lucky recipient of a dubious decision from the referee, Graham Poll. The striker exchanged passes with Harry Kewell before taking a gentle barge from Emmanuel Eboué which the official harshly identified as a foul. Wenger remonstrated with the fourth official long after Lehmann had stopped Gerrard's shot.

In mitigation, Wenger later referred back to the moment Emmanuel Adebayor broke through on 36 minutes and was flagged, wrongly it appeared, as off-side. But apart from a swerving shot from Henry in the second half and a brief period of pressure before the winning goal, this was not an Arsenal team that had anything to offer in attack. The partnership of Henry and Adebayor remains very much in its early stages. His team, Wenger said, are "struggling for confidence at the moment".

"When these [senior] players suffer I feel it affects the whole team. It means we have to fight in the next game as well as we can. The team have great spirit but we lost possession too easily last night and we could have been punished before although I don't agree with the award of the penalty."

On 51 minutes, the Arsenal centre-half Philippe Senderos was outmanoeuvred by a nudge and change of direction from Fowler when Gerrard's ball, angled in from the right, found the striker in the area. But his connection was imperfect and Lehmann thrust a hand out to steer the ball away.

Injuries married with a failing Champions' League campaign are strange bedfellows indeed at Arsenal, where all is clearly not what it seems. Henry's foot-stamping was the natural reaction to an evening of frustration but he hardly left the pitch looking like a man who has just been convinced that his remaining years in football will be best served staying at a club.

Benitez would not be drawn on whether his side could yet wrest second place from United and avoid the necessity of Champions' League qualification. For Wenger the choice of second or third is unlikely to be a luxury he is afforded.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek; Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Riise; Gerrard, Sissoko (Garcia, 85), Alonso (Hamann, 72), Kewell; Fowler (Cissé, 80), Morientes. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Traoré.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Eboué, Senderos, Touré, Flamini; Ljungberg, Gilberto, Fabregas, Pires (Hleb, 77); Henry, Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Diaby, Almunia (gk), Larsson, Djourou.

Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).

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