United cool Arsenal
Manchester United beat Arsenal 3-1 yesterday to stay within a point of leader Chelsea after their first-ever Premier League win at Emirates Stadium.
Nani set up two goals in five first-half minutes, one an own goal by goalkeeper Manuel Almunia and the other by Wayne Rooney, before Park Ji-sung carried the ball half the length of the field to make it 3-0 in the 52nd minute.
United's second win of the season over Arsenal took their unbeaten record against the Gunners to five matches and pushed the defending champions to 53 points.
United looked confident throughout after reaching the League Cup final this week with a 3-1 win over Manchester City.
"It was a great performance by us," United manager Alex Ferguson said. "It's that time of year when we need to kick on. I think Wednesday's result and performance galvanised us."
Arsenal, which only scored with 10 minutes left when Thomas Vermaelen's shot deflected off defender Jonny Evans, are in third place on 49 points after their first Premier League defeat since November.
Manchester City are eight points back from Arsenal in sixth place after beating last-place Portsmouth 2-0, although City could easily climb higher since they have played two fewer matches than the four sides immediately above them.
Arsenal were expected to give United a tough match in north London and Andrei Arshavin's attempts to isolate Wes Brown, who was playing alongside Evans in central defence because of the absence of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, gave the Gunners early hope.
But United took control with their 33rd-minute opener and could have won by a bigger margin, with Nani and Rooney both going close to scoring more.
Arsenal only managed to exert sustained pressure on United in the last 10 minutes.
Nani created United's first goal when he danced between two defenders on the right touchline, dodged a third on the edge of the area and floated a cross from a narrow angle towards the far post.
With Park rushing in behind for what would have been an easy finish, Almunia tried to flick the ball over the bar but pushed it into the net.
"I don't know how to explain that," Nani said of his skill. "I'm working every day hard to be fit to play in the team."
Nani then played an integral role in the length-of-the-field counter-attack that ended with Rooney calmly shooting past Almunia for his 100th Premier League goal.
"Counter-attack has always been a part of our game, particularly away from home," Ferguson said. "Arsenal play a lot of good football and get to the edge of the box regularly, so if you can get the ball, you've got a chance against them."
Arsenal's defence disintegrated as Park charged from inside his own half to score before Vermaelen finally roused a dispirited home crowd with his late goal.
United have now won three straight Premier League matches and are in strong contention for a record fourth straight title, despite rarely hitting top form this season after the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid.
Arsenal need to rally quickly, but have matches against Chelsea and Liverpool up next.
Emmanuel Adebayor and Vincent Kompany scored first-half goals to put Manchester City level on points with Liverpool and just one point behind fourth-place Tottenham.
"Physically, we were probably a bit tired after the Manchester United game last Wednesday," Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini said. "There are three or four teams who are pushing for fourth spot and we will keep fighting until the end of the season to get it."
Portsmouth, which sold another key player Saturday to further alleviate the financial problems threatening their future, remained last in the standings with 15 points - five fewer than the next worst side and without a league win in six weeks.
Adebayor put City ahead in the 40th minute, taking one touch on Stephen Ireland's perfectly placed pass from halfway and smashing a half volley past England goalkeeper David James for his first goal since returning from the African Cup of Nations.
Kompany made it 2-0 five minutes later with a firm header from Martin Petrov's corner.
Chelsea beat Burnley 2-1 on Saturday to keep the lead on 54 points, while Tottenham drew 1-1 at Birmingham and Everton's resurgence continued with a 1-0 win at Wigan.