United beat Arsenal to edge closer to title
LONDON (Reuters) - Manchester United surged six points clear at the top of the Premier League with a 2-1 comeback victory over Arsenal at Old Trafford on Sunday that also snuffed out the London club's slim title hopes.
Emmanuel Adebayor put Arsenal ahead early in the second half but a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty levelled and Owen Hargreaves won it with a 72nd-minute free kick.
The result leaves United on 80 points, six clear of Chelsea, who host Wigan Athletic on Monday, with Arsenal on 71. United, who have a far superior goal difference, still have to play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Earlier on Sunday, Liverpool tightened their grip on fourth place when superbly-taken goals from Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres and a late Andriy Voronin effort gave them a 3-1 Anfield win over Blackburn Rovers. They have 66 points to the 61 of Everton, who drew 1-1 at Birmingham City on Saturday.
Arsenal travelled back to the north west knowing they needed a win to save their season having been knocked out of the Champions League at Anfield on Tuesday.
They made most of the running in an open first half but were let down by some unconvincing finishing, especially by Adebayor.
However, the Togo striker did find the target three minutes into the second half, in controversial circumstances. Robin van Persie crossed from the left and with United's defenders leaving the ball for keeper Edwin Van der Sar, Adebayor nipped in between them to put the ball into the net with his arm.
Just as they had in their midweek classic at Anfield, Arsenal handed the initiative straight back through poor defending, this time William Gallas handling in the box to give away a needless penalty five minutes later.
Ronaldo, forced to take the spot kick twice after the referee blew for encroachment, duly dispatched it for his 38th goal of the season.
In between the goals Van der Sar had to make two sharp saves to prevent own goals as Rio Ferdinand and Wes Brown deflected crosses goalwards.
United though always looked dangerous and got the winner when Hargreaves took responsibility ahead of Ronaldo and planted a perfectly-executed 20-metre free kick over the wall and into the unprotected half of Jens Lehmann's goal.
United held out without too many further scares to inflict a defeat that left Arsenal with a tally of eight points from their last eight league games having led the league by five points two months ago.
"The quality of that game today was outstanding," United manager Alex Ferguson told Sky Sports News.
"Arsenal were the better team in the first half, we were a bit nervous, the passing was poor.
"When Arsenal scored it forced my hand (with two substitutions) and we did fantastic after that. It was just an incredible game.
"Van der Sar saved us at times and Arsenal were unlucky to get nothing from the game.
"We've got over a nervous day today, the games between the clubs over the years...there's been nothing in them, so this was a big, big game and we've come through it."
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger accepted that his title challenge was over but said: "I think we played with quality and spirit and I'm very proud of our performance.
"We had plenty of chances and were really unlucky not to win this game."
Asked about the turnaround in form of his side, he said: "For two months we have not been very lucky. The quality of the performance we produce, it's difficult to blame anybody.
(Editing by Trevor Huggins and Justin Palmer)
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