By Richard Clarke
A bad, bad week ended with a good Good Friday at Highbury this afternoon.
Arsenal came from behind to beat Liverpool 4-2 and restore their seven-point lead at the top of the Premiership with Thierry Henry hitting a hat-trick in the process.
Sami Hyypia's fifth-minute header was the last thing Ars?ne Wenger needed after his side's FA Cup and Champions League exits this week. Yet his team responded admirably with Henry's 31st minute equaliser.
However the home defence still looked a little fragile and Steven Gerrard's perceptive through ball allowed Michael Owen to tuck away a shot five minutes before the break.
So Arsenal responded once more.
Robert Pires prodded them level four minutes after the restart and, seconds later, Henry conjured up a stunning solo strike. He completed his hat-trick midway through the half with an admittedly fortunate fourth goal.
However it is said that fortune favours the brave and Wenger's side certainly showed that quality today.
It seems that reports of Arsenal's demise have been very much exaggerated.
Before kick-off, Wenger made two changes from the side knocked out of the Champions League by Chelsea in midweek.
Jose Antonio Reyes and Edu dropped to the bench with Dennis Bergkamp and Gilberto taking over their respective roles. Henry did start. The suspected hamstring problem that forced him off late on Tuesday turned out to be a "locked back".
The manager had said he was likely to feature in one of the Easter games. After two successive defeats, the need for victory today was acute.
But it could not have started in a worse way. In the fifth minute, Harry Kewell thumped a corner to the far post, Gerrard nodded it back and Hyypia threw himself at the ball to head home from close range.
The pressure was on.
Only a superb challenge from Sol Campbell stopped Owen racing clear in the 12th minute. Arsenal had recovered and were pressing forward but Hyypia's hoofed clearance sent the England striker through. His international team-mate hooked the ball away at the last second.
Still, Arsenal had regained some of their swagger and were starting to knock the ball around with menace just outside the Liverpool area. An offside Henry even put the ball past keeper Jerzy Dudek and into the net.
Liverpool had been pushed back but they might have gone further ahead when, following fine work on the right by El-Hadji Diouf, a shot by Kewell deflected off Lauren's body and nearly curled in at the far post.
In the 26th minute, Henry fed Ljungberg and the Swede scurried into the area to force a fine save from Dudek at the near post. From the resulting corner, Henry blasted over.
Again, Arsenal looked confident but again Liverpool carved themselves a great chance. On the half-hour, John Arne Riise clipped a ball over the home defence and Owen raced through with Campbell in hot pursuit. Lehmann rushed but the striker beat him to the ball, however the touch was poor and his toe-poke drifted over the bar.
He was made to pay a minute later.
Pires spotted Henry on the left the area and chipped a pass forward. Henry controlled it with the inside his right foot and then planted a shot through the legs of Dudek with his left.
It was his 105th Premiership goal - a new record for an Arsenal player.
The team - and the supporters - were roaring again. Pires and Ljungberg started to find space on the flanks as Highbury sensed a comeback. They also had a decent penalty appeal turned down.
However they were caught cold once more. Five minutes before the break Gerrard threaded a slide-rule pass through to Owen on the corner of the six-yard box and the pacy striker swivelled to send his shot past Lehmann.
Within 30 seconds of the restart, Lauren and Ljungberg combined on the right then, after a penalty appeal against Hyypia, Henry scooped a shot around the far post.
Straight away, Kewell dragged a shot wide after the lively Owen had turned Toure.
Then came that double. In the 49th minute, Henry tapped the ball to Ljungberg who immediately sidefooted a pass for Pires to ran onto. He held off his marker to prod home the equaliser from eight-yards.
It was a well-worked goal. The one that put Arsenal ahead a minute later was anything but. It was a one-man show and, as ever, the star was Thierry Henry.
Picking up the ball 25 yards out, the Frenchman shrugged off one challenge and then turned on the turbo to weave through the Liverpool defence. Then he came face-to-face with Dudek. But the keeper had little chance and he stroke home his 33rd goal of the season.
As a celebration he ran towards the East Stand kissing his badge.
After such a high, the game hit a lull. Liverpool, though stunned, were still dangerous. However the Arsenal defence seemed to have regained some of their composure.
In the 69th minute, Lauren crossed from the right and the ball sailed over the head of Igor Biscan to Henry six yards out. The striker's header was firm but just too high for his hat-trick.
He did not have to wait too long. In the 77th minute, Bergkamp picked out Henry on the edge of the area. He controlled the ball and got his shot away. It bounced back off the prone Dudek, hit the Frenchman and rolled back into the net.
Ljungberg and Edu, on for Pires, had chances to score again as Liverpool's challenge began to crumble away. Arsenal held on with relative ease.
So it's seven points clear with seven games left. Although this victory doesn't make up for those two earlier defeats, it helps every Highbury-hearted fan feel a whole heap better.
Thierry slides his shot under Dudek
The ball rolls in for 1-1
Robert Pires bundles in the second equaliser
Thierry ends his mazy run with a sublime finish
3-2 to the Arsenal
Thierry rounds of his hattrick..
..and celebrates in style
© Arsenal Broadband Limited 2004