Driving rain and red mist enveloped Highbury yesterday, failing to obscure a passionate fourth-round FA Cup tie that must have caused indigestion at a million Sunday lunches as it unfolded as a ratings winner for BBC television. Three players were sent off in separate incidents during a five-minute spell, one of them, Jamie Carragher, for the hitherto unrecorded offence of throwing back into the crowd a coin aimed at him. Another of the miscreants, Dennis Bergkamp, had earlier finished off an exquisite move for the goal that earned revenge of a sort for Arsenal's defeat by Liverpool in last season's final.
If that particular dish is best eaten cold, nobody had told yesterday's diners for this was a hot roast of a game with all the trimmings. As Arsenal's manager, Arsène Wenger, put it, after seeing the number of red cards under his stewardship rise to 42 in all and 10 this season: "It was a real cup tie. Both teams were up for it. If I was a neutral supporter, I'd like to pay to see a game like we saw today."
Most regulars did pay, unlike the season-tickets at many Premiership clubs; live television and expensive seats or not, the attendance was only 40 short of the crowd for the dreary 1-1 draw between the teams a fortnight ago. Those who stayed away made the wrong decision.
Wenger had promised a more open game this time, and he and Liverpool's Phil Thompson both played their part, selecting Sylvain Wiltord and Emile Heskey respectively to support their two main strikers from wide positions on the right. Amid the current heavy programme soon to be made worse by the resumption of the Champions' League neither club ideally wanted a replay, though Thompson would have given a lot for one as his team launched their vain offensive in the last 20 minutes with 10 men against nine.
"It was a fantastic cup-tie apart from certain incidents and we're very, very disappointed to go out," he said. "It was two teams believing that if they could get through this round, their club could go all the way." Arsenal, semi-finalists three times in the past four years, will now believe that they can.
While Wenger declined to comment on Martin Keown's dismissal for holding back Michael Owen, or Bergkamp's for a rash lunge at Carragher though he did, for once, see them Thompson was straightforward in his condemnation of the Liverpool defender, as well as the spectator who threw a coin at him: "This throwing things on to the pitch worries me. Someone somewhere will get hurt badly an eye could be lost. But Jamie can't do what he did and I've told him so. Two wrongs don't make a right. He let himself down, his team-mates down and his club down."
It would have been difficult to envisage Arsenal, who had not kept a clean sheet in 12 matches since 1 December, hanging on for victory when two men short. As it was, Carragher's rush of blood helped the home side prevent any repetition of Cardiff last May, when Owen filched two goals in the last seven minutes.
It was not the little striker's day. He missed the three chances that came his way, starting as early as the 12th minute, when a delightful touch by Nicolas Anelka sent him clear to be foiled by Richard Wright's block. Arsenal, already without their Cardiff goalscorer Fredrik Ljungberg, and further handicapped by the loss of Robert Pires after 20 minutes, then scored with their first opportunity seven minutes later. The outstanding Thierry Henry ubiquitous wolf rather than fox in the box yesterday spun away to play a one-two with Giovanni van Bronckhorst and cross for Bergkamp to glance in a rare headed goal.
Within a minute Anelka drove a snap-shot against the angle of post and bar, but he was suffering from a bang to the collar-bone and, to the delight of his former fans, had to be replaced at half-time by Jari Litmanen.
Arsenal's unusual formation, with Bergkamp dropping off deep and Wiltord staying wide, began to cause greater problems and three good efforts by Henry early in the second half required saving tackles by Stéphane Henchoz and then a goal-line clearance by Carragher, who had almost turned the ball into his own net.
Midway through the half, the real mayhem began. First, Keown held back Owen, who was going clear on to Litmanen's lofted pass, and received his sixth red card in Wenger's five years at Highbury. Next Bergkamp stamped in late at Carragher, a rash and untypical intervention that, whether it connected or not, was adjudged violent conduct and a sending-off offence by the referee, Mike Riley. Before play restarted, Carragher, hit by an object thrown from the lower East Stand, hurled it back in fury and was sensibly led away by Riley before being sent down the tunnel. The Football Association will study reports and television pictures this week before considering whether to take any further action. If it does, Liverpool will feel entitled to question why Keown escaped last week with throwing a stray corner-flag into the crowd at Elland Road.
The remaining 20 minutes were like a training game devised by a sadistic coach, with Arsenal's leg-weary survivors playing 4-3-1 against Liverpool's 3-4-2. Owen headed wide and in stoppage time just failed to defeat Richard Wright from the sort of angle from which he had won the Cup. The holders were out.
Goal: Bergkamp (27) 1-0.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Wright; Luzhny, Keown, Campbell, Cole; Wiltord (Upson, 67), Vieira, Van Bronckhorst (Grimandi, 84), Pires (Parlour, 20); Bergkamp, Henry. Substitutes not used: Stack (gk), Dixon.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek; Wright (Murphy, 80), Henchoz, Hyypia, Carragher; Heskey, Hamann, Gerrard, Riise; Anelka (Litmanen, h-t), Owen. Substitutes not used: Arphexad (gk), Berger, McAllister.
Referee: M Riley (Leeds).
Bookings: Arsenal: Cole. Liverpool: Henchoz, Heskey, Gerrard, Wright. Sent off: Arsenal: Keown, Bergkamp. Liverpool: Carragher.
Man of the match: Henry.
SIX MINUTES OF MAYHEM
67 min: Arsenal's Martin Keown sent off for pulling back Michael Owen when the striker was through on goal
71 min: Dennis Bergkamp dismissed for two-footed tackle on Liverpool's Jamie Carragher
72 min: Carragher given red card after throwing what appeared to be a coin back into the crowdReuse content