Arsenal trounced Liverpool 4-1 to close to within four points of Premier League leaders Chelsea and Manchester United also retained their slim title hopes by beating Aston Villa on Saturday.
With Chelsea in action later against Stoke City, Arsenal applied a little pressure to Jose Mourinho’s side by sweeping away Liverpool before halftime at The Emirates with Hector Bellerin, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez all on target.
Olivier Giroud curler sealed victory in the final minute after a Jordan Henderson penalty had briefly raised Liverpool’s hopes, only for Emre Can to get sent off late in the game.
“What we can master now mathematically is the top four, where we will finish,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger told reporters.
“For the title we need us to be perfect and Chelsea not to be perfect, so let’s focus on what we can master.”
Ander Herrera scored at the end of each half and Wayne Rooney added a spectacular strike in between as Manchester United moved above champions Manchester City into third place with a 3-1 home win over Aston Villa.
Chelsea, who host Stoke City, have 67 points from 29 games with Arsenal on 63 and United 62, both from 31 matches. Manchester City (61) face Crystal Palace on Monday.
Liverpool’s top-four hopes are fading fast and they are on 54 points in fifth place.
“It was a game we needed to take something from,” Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said.
“We didn’t defend well enough in key moments of the game.”
Liverpool, badly disrupted by the absence of suspended defender Martin Skrtel, wasted a great chance to go ahead when Lazar Markovic fluffed a pass to Raheem Sterling who was denied a tap-in after a quick counter-attack.
Punishment came in the form of Bellerin’s precise finish, Ozil’s sweet free kick and a ferocious Sanchez strike.
Rooney’s stunning volley set Old Trafford abuzz as United racked up a fourth consecutive victory but the team received mixed reviews from manager Louis van Gaal.
“The first half I was rather pleased with our performance, but the second half we were too slow,” the Dutchman said.
“We are still not certain about Champions League qualification — it is still a rat race.”
It was a good day for teams striving to avoid relegation.
Andy King’s scrambled late goal earned bottom club Leicester City a precious 2-1 home win over West Ham United and 18th-placed Queens Park Rangers crushed 10-man West Bromwich Albion 4-1 for a rare away victory.
Hull City’s worries deepened, however, after a 3-1 loss at Swansea City.
Leicester are still four points adrift of 17th-placed Sunderland who play Newcastle United on Sunday, but QPR are only a point below the relegation cut-off.
Everton all but ensured safety with a 1-0 win over Southampton whose hopes of a top-four spot now look forlorn.