Pires and Reyes reveal Liverpool's alter ego

Arsenal 3 - Liverpool 1
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The Independent Football

It might be a place in the European Cup final, but it is now officially all that Liverpool have left. England's fourth spot in the Champions' League belongs to Everton and, on the occasion of their 11th away defeat of the season, Rafael Benitez's team transformed themselves once again from the Goliaths of Europe back into the weaklings of the Premiership.

It might be a place in the European Cup final, but it is now officially all that Liverpool have left. England's fourth spot in the Champions' League belongs to Everton and, on the occasion of their 11th away defeat of the season, Rafael Benitez's team transformed themselves once again from the Goliaths of Europe back into the weaklings of the Premiership.

The split personality of Benitez's team has never been more evident than when the meek surrender of yesterday is placed in sharp contrast to the heroics against Chelsea at Anfield on Tuesday. Even Benitez himself, who is hardly given to outspoken criticism of his team, admitted that once Robert Pires and Jose Antonio Reyes had scored the first two goals, his players let "their heads go down".

"We have played 14 games in Europe and we have won only twice in the Premiership matches that have followed," Benitez said. His team, he argued, had played well for the first 15 minutes, but it was the desperate slump after that which will be of infinitely more concern. As for the comparison with the triumph over Chelsea that was, he said a case of "two different teams and two different styles."

Benitez would not be drawn on whether his club will push their appeal against the Football Association's Champions' League ruling in favour of Everton and, when his team plays like this, there can be no guarantees that Liverpool will beat Milan in Istanbul on 25 May.

For Arsène Wenger it was a simple task to secure a second-place finish over Manchester United, which is all but certain through a superior goal difference. They are now unbeaten for 11 Premiership games since their defeat to Sir Alex Ferguson's side on 1 February.

The certainties that had existed in Liverpool's side five days earlier against Chelsea at Anfield disintegrated within the space of 10 minutes and the collapse was shocking to behold. Jerzy Dudek fumbled a shot from Robin van Persie after 10 minutes and Reyes was only a fraction offside when he darted in to tuck home the rebound.

Where they had excelled in the heart of defence last week, Liverpool looked vulnerable and no one more so than Sami Hyypia, whose confidence looked shot, his judgement poor. The centre-back had already presented the ball to Robert Pires once when the French winger struck a free-kick past Dudek on 25 minutes. Dietmar Hamann's foul on Patrick Vieira had given Arsenal the opportunity, but the Polish goalkeeper's positioning was baffling.

He stationed himself within touching distance of his left post and even his last-minute scurry across the goal did not allow him to lay a finger on the gentle curling shot that Pires dispatched into the opposite corner. Earlier, the goalkeeper had done better to palm a shot from Lauren on to the bar after the full-back appeared unmarked at the back post but failed to strike the ball cleanly.

The second goal told Benitez even more about the deficiencies in his defence when Reyes was allowed to run largely unchallenged through an indifferent Liverpool rearguard. Neither Steve Finnan or Hyypia came close to putting in a tackle of any significance as Reyes drifted to the left and cracked a low shot into the bottom corner of Dudek's goal on 29 minutes.

Harry Kewell no longer has the kind of reputation that gives full-backs concern but his and Djibril Cissé's introduction at half-time did give Liverpool brief impetus. On 51 minutes Xabi Alonso made the most of a gentle push from Reyes on the edge of the area and was rewarded with a free-kick. The ball was nudged to Steven Gerrard and he struck a low shot that clipped Cesc Fabregas and beat Jens Lehmann.

The referee Graham Poll would have been justified in dismissing Hamann for a clumsy lunge at Philippe Senderos when the midfielder was already on a booking and he denied Reyes a penalty when he appeared to have been tripped by Djimi Traoré. Fabregas added the third in injury time, scoring from close range after Dennis Bergkamp had flicked Lauren's cross into his stride.

Goals: Pires (25) 1-0; Reyes (29) 2-0, Gerrard (51)2-1, Fabregas (90) 3-1.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Lauren, Touré, Senderos, Cole; Fabregas, Vieira, Gilberto, Pires (Edu, 68); Van Persie (Bergkamp, 68), Reyes (Aliadière, 84). Substitutes not used: Campbell, Almunia (gk).

Liverpool (4-4-1-1): Dudek; Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Traoré; Garcia, Alonso, Hamann (Smicer, 68), Riise (Kewell, h-t); Gerrard; Baros (Cissé, h-t). Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Biscan.

Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).

Booked: Liverpool Baros, Hamann.

Man of the match: Reyes.

Attendance: 38,119.

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