Reds down the Gunners

EUROPEAN FOOTBALL: Liverpool shut out Arsenal 1-0 while German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was man of the match for making a series of great saves for the Gunners

AP , LONDON

Thu, Feb 16, 2006 - Page 19

Luis Garcia scored late as Liverpool edged Arsenal 1-0 on Tuesday to strengthen its hold on third place in the Premier League and threaten the Gunners' chances of capturing a Champions League berth.

The Spanish forward scored three minutes from time with a low angled drive after Arsenal's German goalkeeper, Jens Lehmann, brilliantly blocked a powerful 25m drive by countryman Dietmar Hamann.

Lehmann had defied Liverpool with four standout saves.

"It was a pity to see the goalkeeper was man of the match," said Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez, who would have liked that award to have gone to one of his players. "It means we are doing something well. We have created chances and the saves he made today were unbelievable.

"But we were playing with a high tempo to the end. The team worked hard until the end. We played well but Arsenal did not create a lot of opportunities."

The victory means Liverpool has 51 points from 26 games, 15 points behind leader Chelsea. Second-place Manchester United has 54. After its ninth loss of the campaign, Arsenal remains fifth with 41, four points behind north London neighbor Tottenham in the race to capture the fourth Champions League spot.

Back from appearing in the African Cup of Nations final, Ivory Coast defender Kolo Toure almost gave Arsenal the lead but headed wide of the far post from a corner.

At the other end Liverpool's John Arne Riise shaved a post with a 30m shot and Lehmann made an acrobatic save to push the ball over the bar after his own teammate, Philippe Senderos, almost headed it into his own net.

Lehmann rescued Arsenal again in the 31st minute when he dived to his right to block Steven Gerrard's penalty which was awarded after Emmanuel Eboue pushed Fernando Morientes in the area.

After the German 'keeper had saved at the foot of the post from Harry Kewell, Robbie Fowler thought he put Liverpool ahead early in the second half. He collected a pass from Gerrard, flicked the ball past a defender and fired an angled shot only for Lehmann to thrust out an arm and block it.

Little was seen of Arsenal as an attacking force, meanwhile, with Thierry Henry working virtually alone.

Substitute Djibril Cisse had a chance to snatch all three points for Liverpool with six minutes to go when the ball dropped to him with his back to goal but his overhead shot flew over the bar.

Dave Kitson had a last-minute penalty saved by Paddy Kenny but League Championship leader Reading moved another step closer to its first appearance in the top flight of English soccer by holding second-place Sheffield United to 1-1.

Bruce Dyer marked his debut for the home side by giving United a ninth-minute lead but Kitson leveled three minutes later.

Steve Coppell's Reading still leads Neil Warnock's Blades by 12 points. With two teams guaranteed promotion, Reading holds a 21-point advantage over Leeds, which jumped into third place above Watford by beating the Hornets 2-1.

Zaragoza survived a 4-0 defeat against Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu stadium to reach the Copa del Rey final on an aggregate score of 6-5 on Tuesday.

Needing to win by at least five goals in the second-leg semifinal, Madrid fell just short of its objective despite strikes by four of its Brazilian players, Cicinho, Robinho, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos.

Zaragoza will play either Deportivo La Coruna or Espanyol in the final of Spain's knockout competition on April 12. Espanyol won the first leg 2-1, with the second-leg yet to be arranged.

"We achieved our aim and we are worthy winners of the semifinal. Madrid deserves a lot of credit. They played a great game as did my team, which has eliminated three great teams," said Zaragoza coach Victor Munoz.

Madrid, which hasn't won the Copa del Rey since 1993, has only the Spanish League and the Champions League to aim for this season.