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Liverpool crush United, Arsenal edge Spurs as race hots up

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard (2nd L) celebrates scoring his second penalty against Manchester United with team mates during their English Prem
Liverpool's Steven Gerrard (2nd L) celebrates scoring his second penalty against Manchester United with team mates during their English Prem

By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) - Two Steven Gerrard penalties and a Tomas Rosicky thunderbolt helped Liverpool and Arsenal claim precious derby wins on Sunday to crank up the pressure on Premier League leaders Chelsea.

Liverpool skipper Gerrard dispatched spot-kicks either side of halftime as the in-form Merseysiders humbled bitter north- west rivals Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford.

He also thumped the post with a third penalty but Liverpool won at United for only the second time in nearly 10 years, Luis Suarez scoring his 25th league goal of the season to pile on the agony for the hosts who had Nemanja Vidic sent off.

Liverpool's win put the onus on Arsenal to respond and they did so at north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, although their grinding victory in bright spring sunshine was in marked contrast to Liverpool's stroll.

Rosicky's spectacular shot after 72 seconds proved enough to seal the points for Arsenal and move them alongside second-placed Liverpool on 62 points from 29 games, four behind Chelsea who have played a match more.

With Manchester City on 60 points from only 27 games a thrilling final two months are in store in the title race, with Liverpool emerging as serious threats to end their 24-year title drought.

"I think we showed today that we are genuine contenders and we're going to fight till the end for this," Gerrard, who was a goalpost away from becoming the first player to score a hat-trick of penalties in the Premier League, said.

"This is one of the most difficult places to come to in the Premier League. So to come here and dominate from start to finish was great. We're still going away slightly disappointed that we didn't score more goals."

DESPERATE LOOK

There was a desperate look about a United side who managed only one shot on target and their hopes of finishing in the top four are slipping away. They remain in seventh place, 12 points behind fourth-placed Man City.

"It's one of the worst days I've ever had in football," United striker Wayne Rooney, the only player to test Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet, told MUTV.

"It's hard to take. You have to give Liverpool credit - they played well - but it's difficult to take. Nobody wants to lose, especially in this way, in your own stadium. It's not nice."

Manager David Moyes, whose first season in charge of United has been a chastening experience, conceded his side were now struggling to qualify for next season's Champions League, unless they overturn a 2-0 deficit against Olympiakos in Wednesday's last-16 tie and go on to win the trophy.

"It looks like we are a long way off it, we are well aware of that but we are going to keep fighting," said the Scot.

A free-flowing Liverpool could have won by an even bigger margin as they underlined the incredible turnaround in fortunes for English's football's two traditional powerhouses.

They ended last season 28 points behind champions United but are now 14 clear of a side which is virtually the same as the one which claimed a 20th league title last season.

Gerrard's first penalty after 33 minutes followed a deliberate handball by Rafael that could have earned the defender a second yellow card, while his second shortly after the break was for a clumsy Phil Jones challenge on Joe Allen.

Both were converted with ruthless accuracy by Gerrard, one high and one low to the keeper David de Gea's left.

Rooney forced Mignolet into a fine save before halftime as United briefly rallied but both he and Robin van Persie cut isolated figures throughout.

United's day got even worse when Vidic sent Daniel Sturridge sprawling in the area with a lunging tackle and though Gerrard could not beat De Gea again, Suarez's neat finish after 84 minutes capped a dazzling Liverpool display.

Vidic, who joins Inter Milan at the end of the season, now has four red cards against Liverpool, more than any other player against one opponent in the history of the Premier League.

After suffering consecutive setbacks on the road Arsenal revived their own title hopes with only their fourth league win at Tottenham since manager Arsene Wenger took over in 1996.

EARLY BLAST

Despite Rosicky's stunning early blast from 25 meters it was a labored Arsenal display and they were forced to defend deep for most of the match as Tottenham dominated possession without creating too many chances.

Former Gunner Emmanuel Adebayor and Nacer Chadli both failed to convert presentable chances after the break as Tottenham slumped to a defeat that virtually ends their hopes of challenging for a top-four place.

"Tottenham played very well," Wenger, who will mark his 1,000th game in charge of Arsenal next weekend, said.

"We had an early lead and we were juggling between protecting the lead and finishing the game off.

"It was a must-win game. We maintained the focus to not make the mistake that would cost us."

Chelsea slipped up on Saturday, losing 1-0 at Aston Villa.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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