Arsenal wary of master gunner

 

MASTER marksman Robbie Fowler - God to his Liverpool team mates - will leave Arsenal without a prayer in the Premiership title race if he inflicts his familiar punishment on them at Highbury tonight.

Fowler, already the leading scorer in the top flight with 28 goals this season, seems to take particular delight in outscoring the Gunners.

He has notched nine goals in the last seven games against them, including two hat tricks - one completed within the space of just five minutes in a staggering exhibition of quick fire finishing at Anfield three years ago.

That was back when Fowler was just starting to show he Vas the natural Liverpool successor to goal machine Ian Rush.

Since then, he has never been on the losing side against Arsenal. This time, with both teams neck and neck behind leaders Manchester United, the losers might as well count themselves out of championship contention.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has already done that once this season following two home defeats in a black week against United and Wimbledon last month.

His team have somehow survived a catalogue of suspensions and injuries to win three games in a row since then but they are still six points behind Alex Ferguson's team, and the Frenchman admits: "We cannot afford another slip."

"We must win tomorrow (Monday) night and then also win all the other six matches that are left. Even that may not be enough for the title, because United are six points in front and have been so consistent.

"Am I trying to use psychology by saying that or just being realistic? A bit of both, perhaps."

Wenger, though, has cause to remain at least slightly optimistic, with 25 goal Ian Wright, defender Steve Bould and wingback Lee Dixon all available again after suspensions, and England goalkeeper David Seaman set for a timely return, after six matches out following a knee operation.

It is a wonder that Arsenal are still in with even an outside hope of the title considering they have been without supposedly England's top goalkeeper, who also broke a rib earlier in the campaign, for a total of 18 games this season.

The Gunners can continue to believe in Tony Adams survives a late fitness test to continue in defence despite an agonising ankle injury.

Wenger revealed: "At the end of 90 minutes, it is sometimes so bad that Tony cannot walk. There is bad inflamation in the ankle but with rest during the week he has been able to play on, and I'm hopeful he will be able to play again tomorrow.

"England want him after the game to prepare to play against Mexico next weekend and I will let him go. But my advice is that they are cautious with him.

"My problem with him is the same as England's. If they want him at his best for the World Cup game in April, they should let him rest for the only possible chance he can get, over the next two weeks, my point of view, it would be preferable if he did not play against Mexico but it is up to them."

Today has clearly become the latest big night for Wenger if he is to be the first foreign coach to lift the championship in this country - and he is banking on Adams.

But the big 30 year old defender, who has enjoyed such a personal renaissance under the French man's revolutionary methods at Highbury, will not have specific instructions to curb the impish Fowler.

Wenger said: "We will not try to man mark him because that would be dangerous. It would give players like John Barnes and Steve McManaman more room to supply him. It is the supply we must try to stop.

But in the end it could all come down to a shoot out between two phenomenal goalscorers - Arsenal's Wright, just 10 short, on 169, of breaking the club record, and Fowler, who has notched 113 for Liverpool in just 182 appearances.

"It's a big game, that's for sure," said Liverpool boss Roy Evans.

"But all the games between now and the end of the season are going to be as big as each other.

"We know we're going to get a real battle at Arsenal. They are still very much in the title race and Arsene Wenger has done a fantastic job there this season.

"But we have a decent record there over the last few years and I hope that continues."

Evans has to decide whether to recall defender Bjorn Kvarme, who was cup tied for the midweek European victory over his fellow Norwegians at SK Brann. His replacement, Steve Harkness, was man of the match.

"I hope I've given the manager something to think about," said Harkness.

After missing the first eight months of the season, I'd love to be involved from now to the end."

Evans also looks set to give the enigmatic Stan Collymore a start at the expense of Patrik Berger, after the £8.5 million striker scored within two minutes of coming on as a substitute on Thursday night.

. The English Football Association have promised a full inquiry into the crowd trouble which scarred Queens Park Rangers' Nationwide League first division clash with Portsmouth at Loftus Road on Saturday.

The violence resulted in nine arrests and left at least four people injured after fighting broke out in a stand normally reserved for family membership supporters.