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Arsenal open five-point lead at close of 2002

December 30, 2002 12:48 IST
Arsenal, who dominated English soccer in 2002, ended the year with a five-point cushion at the top of the premier league after securing a 1-1 draw against Liverpool thanks to a controversial penalty on Sunday.

Arsenal have 43 points from 21 matches, five more than Chelsea and Manchester United. Newcastle are fourth with 35 after beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 earlier on Sunday.

France striker Thierry Henry converted Arsenal's penalty 11 minutes from time to salvage a point at Highbury and leave Liverpool still looking for their first win in nine games.

Norway's John Arne Riise was adjudged to have impeded substitute Francis Jeffers on the edge of the Liverpool box.

Midfielder Danny Murphy had put Liverpool ahead, also with a penalty, nine minutes before Jeffers "conned" the referee, according to Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier, to earn a spot kick for the champions and FA Cup holders.

Houllier said he thought Jeffers had dived.

"I would say (the referee was) conned by the dive of Jeffers," Houllier said. "He said to my player that he pulled (Jeffers') shirt and you can see in the replay that he never pulled his shirt.

"I think he's done it, you can see it," Houllier said of Jeffers' fall in the box. Riise was booked. "(The referee) should never have given that penalty.

"On our second half (performance) we deserved to win... We haven't lost for four games now. Without that poor decision we could have had the three points."

Houllier said he thought the injury that forced him to take off England striker Michael Owen in the first half was a hamstring problem. "We'll see tomorrow," he said.

Liverpool's penalty came when England midfielder Steven Gerrard sent a pin-point long ball from inside the Liverpool half to Czech striker Milan Baros, who was brought down in the box by Arsenal defender Sol Campbell.


Liverpool, whose last league win dates back to November 2, have taken only four points out of a possible 27

and are in sixth place.

Manchester United ended a run of two defeats with a 2-0 home win over Birmingham City on Saturday while Chelsea lost by the same score at Leeds.

Alan Shearer scored his 105th league goal for Newcastle in a pulsating match at St James' Park on Sunday.

Midfielder Gary Speed put Newcastle in front after a quarter of an hour with a low shot inside the near post from Goran Bunjevcevic's header out of defence.

Former England captain Shearer, who took his league career tally to 240, made it two just short of the hour when he headed home Craig Bellamy's cross from the left.

Spurs pulled one back when Newcastle's Greek defender Nikos Dabizas headed a low cross from the right by substitute Teddy Sheringham into his own goal.

"We got a lot of criticism and rightly so after the (4-3) defeat at Bolton at the weekend and we had a point to prove today because of that and I thought we came out and did that," Shearer said.

"We defended very, very well at times because our backs were against the wall. We had three substitutions, one in the first half and two at halftime, that upset our rhythm."

Wales captain Speed had to come off after only 23 minutes suffering a recurrence of a hernia injury.

Newcastle several good Spurs chances, notably when their Irish goalkeeper Shay Given tipped Argentine wing back Mauricio Taricco's dipping 25-metre shot over the bar.

Given also saved at point blank range from Gustavo Poyet when the Uruguayan ghosted in to meet Taricco's cross from the left.

Man-of-the-match Shearer could have avoided Newcastle's late nerves if he had scored when handed a clear chance 13 minutes from time, but his shot skimmed the outside of the far post.

Rex Gowar
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