Arsenal high five
The fight for Champions League qualification from the English Premier League intensified yesterday, with Arsenal dismantling Aston Villa in their biggest win of the season and Southampton surrendering third place after a surprise home loss to Swansea.
Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott - starting their first league games after long injury lay-offs - were among Arsenal's five different scorers in a 5-0 win at Emirates Stadium, continuing the free-scoring form of Arsene Wenger's team and leaving relegation-threatened Villa with an unwanted record.
For the first time in their 141-year history, Villa have gone six league games without a goal.
Arsenal stayed fifth, but are now level on points with Southampton, which failed to translate their dominance into goals before being caught out by Jonjo Shelvey's 83rd-minute shot in a 1-0 defeat.
A frustrating afternoon was complete for Southampton when left back Ryan Bertrand was sent off in the 89th for a dangerous tackle.
Only five points separate third-placed Manchester United and seventh-placed Liverpool with 15 games remaining, in what is shaping up to be a scramble for the final two Champions League spots behind the top two of Chelsea and Manchester City.
On current form, Arsenal are looking good to return to Europe's top competition for an 18th straight season.
With their injury problems finally relenting, Wenger's attack-minded team has scored 15 goals in the last five games - all of them wins. And they didn't even miss injured star forward Alexis Sanchez yesterday.
A miserable afternoon for Villa began when Ozil flicked a long pass through to Olivier Giroud, who surged clear and chipped the goalkeeper in the eighth. The roles were reversed in the 56th, Giroud playing in Ozil for the Germany playmaker to slot a low finish into the corner.
In the final half hour, Walcott finished off a counter-attack, Santi Cazorla converted a penalty and right back Hector Bellerin completed the rout in injury
"I believe that we should try to be consistent and see what happens," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said, when asked if it was too late to make a charge for the title.
Arsenal are 11 points behind league leaders Chelsea.
It is more than 600 minutes since Villa scored in the Premier League and the team is two points and three places above the relegation zone.
"You probably can't print the things I am thinking," Villa manager Paul Lambert said.
Southampton passed up a great chance to stay in third place, with Swansea appearing to be at the hosts' mercy without suspended playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson and having sold top scorer Wilfried Bony to Manchester City this month.
Several chances were spurned by Southampton before Shelvey struck a fierce shot that goalkeeper Fraser Forster could only palm into the top corner of the net.
"They came for one point and they got three points," said Southampton manager Ronald Koeman, whose team had only lost twice at home this season - to the two Manchester giants.