Manchester United thrashed Wigan 5-0 and Arsenal beat Portsmouth 4-1 to diminish Chelsea’s advantage at the top of the English Premier League going into 2010.
Wayne Rooney’s 15th goal of the season started the rout on Wednesday that moved second-place United to within two points of Chelsea.
“It was an excellent performance,” United manager Alex Ferguson said. “Rooney was absolutely fantastic; the energy he shows and desire to win is marvelous.”
Like Rooney, Eduardo da Silva also scored first for Arsenal in the 28th minute as the London club cemented its title credentials at the expense of bottom—place Portsmouth, which was fighting to prevent bankruptcy.
Arsenal is two points behind United, but has a game in hand over Chelsea and the 18—time English champions.
“We’re up for it, the commitment is there and the talent is there,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. “We’ll fight and this team is ready to give everything.”
United, though, was targeting a fourth straight title, and a sign of the strength of Ferguson’s squad was that he fielded a different lineup for a 99th consecutive match.
Rooney was unstoppable against Wigan. The England striker connected with defender Rafael Da Silva’s low cross at the near post in the 28th and steered the ball beyond Chris Kirkland.
United quickly doubled its advantage when former Wigan winger Antonio Valencia cut the ball back for Michael Carrick to sweep home.
A third came on the stroke of halftime when Darren Fletcher found Rafael on the edge of the area and the Brazilian drilled a low shot past Kirkland and ran across to the bench to celebrate with twin brother Fabio.
Kirkland was forced off injured at halftime and his replacement, Mike Pollitt, was beaten after five minutes.
Valencia skipped past Maynor Figueroa and crossed into the penalty area where Hendry Thomas had been defending before the Wigan player slipped.
Having created three goals, Valencia piled more misery on his former club when he lofted the ball over the onrushing Pollitt in the 75th.
“The play, movement and tempo of the game was great for us,” Ferguson said. “They kept the momentum going for us all night and you never know how important the goal difference could be, although Chelsea still have two more than us.”
While Arsenal chases a first league title since 2004, Portsmouth was fighting for survival — not only in the Premier League, but for its very existence. It emerged earlier in the day that the cash-strapped 2008 FA Cup winners face bankruptcy unless they can clear debts to the British government by February.
Pompey’s miserable plight was reflected in Arsenal’s opening goal with Eduardo’s free kick taking a huge deflection off defender Younes Kaboul to float past static goalkeeper Hermann Hreidarsson at the right-hand post.
Samir Nasri scored another for Arsenal just before the break after receiving the ball from Aaron Ramsey’s flick-on.
Ramsey got on the scoresheet himself in the 69th, taking the ball off Vanden Borre and charging past Frederic Piquionne before lashing in a left-foot shot from the edge of the box.
Nadir Belhadj pulled one back for Pompey but Alex Song’s header from Nasri’s right-wing cross killed off the match in the 81st with Arsenal’s 51st goal of the season.