SportSoccer

Race for the top four takes decisive turn

SoccerBy Kevin Palmer
Ozil scored a sumptuous free-kick goal for Arsenal
Ozil scored a sumptuous free-kick goal for Arsenal

It felt like this was the day when the race to secure a top four finish in the Premier League took a decisive turn - and now the battle is on to snare second spot behind champions-elect Chelsea.

Three goals in eight first-half minutes saw Arsenal blow away 10-man Liverpool in Saturday's early kick-off to move them up to second in the Premier League, with Manchester United's 3-1 triumph against Aston Villa at Old Trafford ensuring Brendan Rodgers' Reds were punished for their second successive defeat.

A 1-0 loss for Southampton at Everton ended their flickering hopes of getting back into the race for a Champions League finish and while United boss Louis van Gaal insisted the chasing pack were still in "a rate race" to claim fourth spot, the reality is this race is run.

Hector Bellerin set the ball rolling for Arsenal with a good finish on 37 minutes, Mesut Ozil doubled their advantage with a finely-struck free-kick and another great effort from Alexis Sanchez meant Arsene Wenger's side were out of sight at the interval.

Meanwhile, a stunning Wayne Rooney (below) goal was the highlight of a fifth straight win for United in the Premier League, with Ander Herrera scoring twice as they saw off relegation-haunted Villa.

The battle at the bottom of the table took further twists as both Leicester City and QPR picked up wins that could yet see them survive.

Bottom club Leicester are now four points from safety after beating West Ham at the King Power Stadium, with their victory was crucial on a day when QPR's secured a surprise 4-1 win at West Brom.

Hull remain in the relegation dogfight after losing 3-1 at Swansea - with David Meyler sent off to add insult to injury. Ki Sung-yueng opened the scoring for the Swans, with Bafetimbi Gomis doubling their advantage with a fantastic volley.

Republic of Ireland defender Paul McShane halved the deficit, but his fellow Irishman Meyler was sent off moments later before Gomis grabbed his second of the game to seal the points for Garry Monk's men.

In the late match, one of the most remarkable goals in Premier League history was scored by Stoke's Charlie Adam, as he fired past Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois with a 59 metre effort at Stamford Bridge, but the Blues still ran out 2-1 winners to stay seven points clear at the top of the table.

Get tomorrow's Sunday World newspaper for all the best analysis and reaction to Saturday's Premier League action.