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Back to the 90s: Liverpool Dominate Arsenal

A look back at some key matches from a period that saw the Reds go unbeaten against the Gunners for six years.

A look back at some key matches from a period that saw the Reds go unbeaten against the Gunners for six years.

By Tamhas Woods

Liverpool and Arsenal, two giants of football that seldom fail to entertain in their meetings, clash again on the first Super Sunday of a new Premier League season. The 3-3 draw at Anfield just six months ago was, in many ways, a full embodiment of the twists and turns that the saga of these two sides has taken, particularly since the advent of the Premier League in 1992.

In the 1980s, Liverpool enjoyed an almost stellar reign as the immovable force of top flight football, and it was a status only briefly punctured by neighbours Everton. However, as a Merseyside-dominated era came to a close, a new contender, characterised by youth and energy, began to emerge from North London.

Those present at Anfield on the evening of 26th May 1989 witnessed a seismic turn of events, as a young Arsenal side claimed the exact two-goal win they required to ruin what promised to be yet another title-winning party for Liverpool. The second (and decisive) goal from 21-year old Michael Thomas arrived with the final kick of the season, sparking a championship rivalry that would continue into the new decade.

After an immediate return of the title to Anfield, Arsenal would reclaim it yet again before Leeds emerged as shock winners of the final “old” First Division. Since the dawn of the Premier League era, Arsenal have claimed a further three titles, while Liverpool remain bereft of the ultimate domestic prize – though there have been several close calls.

It will be a daunting start for Jurgen Klopp in his first full season as Liverpool manager, but can these happy memories of former glories over Arsenal give encouragement to his charges? To be motivated for such a huge fixture, one first takes inspiration from outstanding individuals who embody the club and delivered when the situation demanded.

And who better to start with than a gangly, raven-haired likely lad from Toxteth?

28th August 1994

The early 1990s, and the first two Premier League seasons, saw Arsenal enjoy a good run of results against Liverpool. Less than five minutes of football in August 1994 rendered said run redundant, and signalled the birth of Liverpool’s unbeaten run against the Gunners.

Having thrashed Crystal Palace 6-1 at Selhurst Park a week previously, hopes were already high at Anfield that Liverpool could begin to surge again after two very mediocre seasons. Most enthralling was the prospect of a fruitful blend of experience and vigour up front, with an ‘apprentice’ in Fowler learning from veteran strike partner Ian Rush, before the latter would pass the proverbial torch and continue the famous Anfield dynasty.

Fowler was, to all intents and purposes, the 90s ‘Britpop’ of footballers. Cocky, confident, fearless, and – most importantly – British, his propensity to hit the unreachable corners of the net was a reflection of his uncompromising nature.

For the first goal, Fowler demonstrated his natural predatory skills, beating the offside trap from a free kick and converting the knock-down from Rush with a coolness beyond his years. The second was even more impressive, as Rush slid the ball through a clueless Arsenal defence and Fowler (as was his trademark) found the opposite corner of the net.

An historical achievement was then completed when John Barnes rolled back the years, playing an excellent through-ball to Fowler, who could not fail to score after seeing his initial shot spill directly into his path, almost on the goal-line. The record hat-trick time of four minutes and thirty-five seconds survived for 21 years, broken only in May 2015 by Liverpool new-boy Sadio Mane for Southampton.

23rd December 1995

Earlier in the year, Liverpool had completed a resounding ‘treble’ for 1994/95 over Arsenal, knocking them out of the League Cup before winning the competition itself, and battling to an impressive 1-0 win at Highbury in the league. The latter win was a result which contributed to Liverpool’s improved league finish of fourth, and with the acquisition of Stan Collymore during a famously boiling summer, the Reds looked very likely to climb the league yet again.

Just two days before Christmas 1995, Roy Evans’ men were level on points with Arsenal in a meagre 5th, but in proud possession of the league’s second best goal difference behind runaway leaders Newcastle. Having dispatched bitter rivals Manchester United six days previously, the Reds were full of confidence and pomp.

Although Arsenal themselves arrived at Anfield winless in five, they enjoyed a strong start, with Ian Wright slotting a penalty after eight minutes to put the Gunners in front. Bruce Rioch’s men would hold out for half an hour, but they collectively failed to learn from the past – and so were condemned to repeat it.

Now infamously bleach-blond, Robbie Fowler completed his second hat trick against Arsenal in three Anfield meetings, although the time between his first and third goals was far more modest on this occasion – thirty-eight minutes to be precise.

24th March 1997

For the first time in the Premier League era, this was a fixture between the clubs that looked very much like a vital one in terms of title ambitions. Liverpool were also in search of another league double over Arsenal, after a 2-0 win at Anfield on 19th August 1996 marked their fifth victory in six over the Gunners across all competitions.

Having lead the league at Christmas, Liverpool were by this time trailing eventual champions Manchester United by three points. In their striking new away kit, Liverpool would fail to (literally) become the cream of the crop, but they would very much ‘cream’ Arsenal yet again with a masterful display that equally impressed and infuriated the Reds faithful.

After a goalless opening half, Liverpool’s opening goal arrived five minutes after the restart, and it was a true mixture of flair and brutality. Steve McManaman teased and tormented the Arsenal defence with dazzling footwork, before threading a pass through the eye of a needle to Stan Collymore, who unleashed a ferocious low drive beyond the helpless David Seaman.

Liverpool added a second fifteen minutes later through Jason McAteer, who found a way through the crumbling Arsenal backline and stabbed home after an initial parry from Seaman. In vain, Ian Wright would net a consolation twelve minutes from time.

6th May 1998

Unlike the three aforementioned beatings suffered by Arsenal at the hands of Roy Evans’ Liverpool, this one meant precisely nothing. Three days previously, Arsenal had done that which Liverpool have still failed to do today, winning the Premier League trophy with two games to spare after a ridiculously one-sided thrashing of Everton at Highbury.

Destroying the Anfield hoodoo would have capped a fantastic season for Arsenal, but it was not to be. Liverpool took full advantage of Arsenal’s understandable lethargy, and the only real surprise was the amount of time the Reds took to open the scoring.

A double blast from Ince, two minutes either side of the half-hour mark, put the Reds firmly in control. Michael Owen’s trickery was the source of Ince’s first, and it took an expert eye for goal to convert. By contrast, the second goal was the easiest Ince ever scored in his career, with Arsenal failing miserably to defend a set piece and the ball finding him after a penalty box scramble.

Owen himself made it three before half time, as another dead ball evaded Arsenal’s backline, allowing the diminutive young striker to poach at the far post. The second half was unremarkable and very characteristic of a season’s end, but that did not stop Oyvind Leonhardsen adding his name to the scoresheet three minutes from time.

Across all competitions, this was Liverpool’s ninth win against Arsenal in ten matches.

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