BY DICKSON AGBO
Manchester United blitzed Arsenal with three solid-fire goals in a breathless encounter to close the gap on Manchester City on Saturday but Tottenham slipped further off the pace with a costly draw at Watford.
With Pep Guardiola’s Premier League pacesetters not in action until Sunday, United’s 3-1 victory took them to within five points of the Premier League summit following emphatic wins for Chelsea and Liverpool earlier in the day.
But Mauricio Pochettino must find a way of lifting struggling Spurs after they dropped two more points against Watford with a 1-1 draw at Vicarage Road that leaves them 15 points off the pace.
Jose Mourinho took his team to the Emirates with questions over how they would approach the fixture after a poor recent away record and a shortage of goals against fellow members of the “Big Six”.
But United quashed all thoughts of shutting up shop and were immediately on the front foot, taking the lead through captain Antonio Valencia in the fourth minute and doubling their lead just minutes later through in-form Jesse Lingard.
In a thrilling end-to-end contest United looked irresistible on the break but Arsenal, with Alexandre Lacazette a surprise inclusion after injury fears, enjoyed more than 70 percent of possession in the first half, hitting 15 shots as David De Gea’s goal led a charmed life.
Arsenal sent the decibel level soaring after a lightning-quick start to the second half as Lacazette lashed home Aaron Ramsey’s pass to pull a goal back, and the home side came forward in waves, forcing De Gea to pull off an astounding double save to maintain United’s lead.
But just as the home side threatened to overwhelm United, Paul Pogba burst into the box and squared for Lingard to net his second and silence the crowd.
As the match lost some of its high-octane momentum, referee Andre Marriner sent off Pogba for a studs-up tackle on Hector Bellerin to change the balance of the contest, but Arsenal could not take advantage.
Eden Hazard’s eye-catching performance in their comfortable win in the early fixture at Stamford Bridge will mean sleepless nights for England boss Gareth Southgate, who has the unenviable task of nullifying the Belgian’s threat at next year’s World Cup in Russia.
Chelsea came back from a goal down to ease to a 3-1 victory courtesy of two goals from Hazard – including an impudent penalty – either side of an Alvaro Morata header.
“The gap is eight points now, and there’s still a long way to go so that’s why we have to keep getting closer and closer and hope they slip up,” said midfielder Cesc Fabregas.
“They are there because they deserve it. Our job is to keep winning.”
LIVERPOOL GOAL SPREE
Free-scoring Liverpool blitzed Brighton 5-1 on the south coast with goals from Emre Can, a brace from Roberto Firmino, a late strike from Philippe Coutinho and a Lewis Dunk own goal.
“At the beginning we needed to be patient with Brighton’s style, “ said manager Jurgen Klopp, whose side have scored 12 goals in their past three Premier League away games.”We needed to get used to it.
“We scored two fantastic goals. It was good to watch. We scored a third which is a good idea in a game like this.”
Spurs have challenged for the Premier League crown in the past two seasons but their title push has come to a shuddering halt after a string of damaging results.
Pochettino’s side fell behind to an early Christian Kabasele header. Son Heung-Min equalised midway through the first half but Spurs were reduced to 10 men when Davinson Sanchez was dismissed shortly after the restart.
“It is important for us to change the feelings,” said Pochettino. “We were disappointed after Leicester. We are in a period now that we suffered things against us. It is good for the group to try and learn. It is a long-term project. It will be good for the future. You want to win but in tough moments you learn.”
Former Premier League champions Leicester City, enjoying a revival under new boss Claude Puel, won 1-0 at home to Burnley courtesy of an early strike from flying winger Demarai Gray.
New Everton manager Sam Allardyce watched his side beat Huddersfield 2-0 and Stoke came from behind to beat Swansea 2-1 while West Brom, under new boss Alan Pardew, drew 0-0 against Crystal Palace.
Manchester City host struggling West Ham on Sunday, with Guardiola’s men looking for their 13th consecutive Premier League victory.