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Fowler does trick for Liverpool

Liverpool 3 Fowler 40, 59, 78 Arsenal 1 Wright 7 pen Attendanc e: 39,806
EVEN in the season of kindly words for old scrooges, sympathy for Arsenal is hard won, but yesterday you had to feel sorry for them as Liverpool's imperious football and Robbie Fowler's devastating hat- trick left them looking totally inadequate, especially as Fowler had inflicted similar punishment on them last season.

Their manager, Bruce Rioch, saw the match as a watershed. "We have seen a Liverpool team rebuilt - it's something we're going to have to do at our own place - we need to change some personnel. It may take a few years, but we've got a lot of work to do."

Liverpool had found renewed confidence with their win over Manchester United, while Arsenal were standing shoulder to shoulder with them on points. If there were any doubts that the occasion might not extend the sequence of high entertainment on Merseyside, they came from fears that Arsenal would lapse into deflating meanness because there seemed to be a danger of a one-sided affair. After all, Arsenal were without the core of their defence, Tony Adams and Steve Bould, both suspended, and the shine on their midfield, Dennis Bergkamp, still injured.

So, if Arsenal wanted to divert attention away from defensive susceptibility, they could not have begun more profitably - though misleadingly. Having survived some troublesome attacks from Steve McManaman, they got the best out of Ian Wright's opportunism. After only seven minutes, Wright twisted away from John Barnes's midfield attentions and sprinted on to within 10 yards of goal where Mark Wright, clumsily rather than with premeditated intent, brought him down. The referee thought there was intent and allowed Wright to drive in the penalty.

Liverpool's response was absorbingly inventive. McManaman continued to be their key but equally Stan Collymore remained the man most likely to be where McManaman wanted him. Even so, Collymore could rightly claim that only a lightning reflex move by David Seaman, who flicked his fierce shot round the post, denied him his dues.

Seaman's agility and exceptional ability to cover so much of his goal again came to Arsenal's rescue when Collymore's impressive close control took him past three tackles and allowed him to release Thomas, whose shot Seaman deflected superbly.

Arsenal funnelled back in the old style but were still at pains to find ways to stop Collymore and McManaman from finding channels through their midfield. Meanwhile, Barnes calmly prodded and probed, seeking them out with his wide range of passes, and Michael Thomas worked diligently against his former club. Rightly, the work brought reward and inevitably McManaman and Collymore were involved. As they moved together through the Arsenal defence, Collymore finally slipped the ball to Fowler, whose curling shot at last beat David Seaman.

Hopes of a stirring, hard and eventful game could hardly have been better fulfilled. Arsenal's premature thoughts of consolidating had to be disregarded, but they were out-thought and out-manoeuvred. Paul Merson, David Platt and especially Glenn Helder were all pale by comparison with the courage and determination of Liverpool to be first to the ball and create dominating possession. Liverpool's sumptuous early second-half football not only built on that of the first 45 minutes but equalled any seen against Manchester United the previous week. Jason McAteer swept down the right side. Shots rained in on Seaman. Meanwhile, Mark Wright and John Scales closed the doors at the back and Arsenal rocked rather than knocked. If there was an inevitability about Liverpool then taking the lead, there was a predictability about Fowler being the executioner. Collymore again contributed a telling touch-on from Thomas and Fowler crashed another shot beyond Seaman.

Collymore's contribution throughout was enormous, so it was appropriate that when, after 76 minutes, he regained the ball out near the corner flag, his low centre was perfectly placed for Fowler to dip and head his third of the day and seventh in three games against Arsenal.