Owen admits to envying Arsenal's skills

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The Independent Football

Michael Owen insisted yesterday that Liverpool have not "got worse as a team" over the recent years, but admitted that Arsenal have improved out of all recognition. The England striker said that Liverpool's ambition was now to reach the same level that Arsenal had achieved.

Liverpool will arrive at Highbury on Good Friday 25 points behind the Premiership leaders, with both sides needing the points for totally different reasons.

The Gunners will be intent on extending their 30-match unbeaten league run and re- establishing their firm grip on the top spot, while Liverpool need every point they can get to claim fourth place and a return to Champions' League action after this season's absence.

The comparisons between a Liverpool side that last dominated Europe two decades ago and the current exceptional Arsenal side will be too easily made in Friday's midday battle.

But Owen, who has fought back from injury to take his goal tally to 16 for the season, believes that it is Arsenal who should be praised and admired for their progress rather than Liverpool criticised for their current standing.

Owen said: "Looking at the Premier League over the last few years, I would definitely say we have not got worse as a team. But I think the likes of Arsenal have just improved no end - no one can tell me that the Arsenal team we are watching now is playing the same as the previous five years.

"Sure it has been built up, but the football they are playing now is better than they have ever played, and they are stretching away from everyone, even Manchester United."

Arsenal may have come off worst in their two recent encounters with United, losing in the FA Cup semi-final and drawing in the league, but Owen believes the Gunners are now the benchmark for the rest of English football.

He continued: "United were really dominant. They did not have any challengers a few years ago but while I wouldn't say they have gone backwards either, they haven't progressed as quickly as Arsenal.

"As much as everyone is getting better and better, Arsenal have just gone faster than anyone else."

Liverpool know they will have a major task on their hands to emerge from Highbury with anything to add to their current points tally as they compete with Newcastle, Birmingham and Aston Villa for fourth spot.

But Owen admits to being in awe of Arsenal's quality. He said: "I think everyone thinks that theirs is a fabulous football to watch. They have got unbelievable players. Right down the spine they are so powerful with Sol Campbell, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry. You are just talking the best in the world.

"When you have got three players like that right down the middle, you can have players elsewhere coming in and out of the team. But Arsenal have got quality everywhere.

"We certainly envy them because they have set the target for us and everyone else to reach. It's our aim to become as good as them."