Liverpool Return to Summit as Arsenal, Man Utd Crumble

0

Liverpool continue to put the pressure on Manchester City as a hard-fought 2-0 win at relegation threatened Cardiff moved them back top of the Premier League yesterday just as Arsenal and Manchester United failed to impress in the race for top-four race.

Georginio Wijnaldum’s opener for Liverpool just before the hour and James Milner’s penalty secured a ninth consecutive win in all competitions for Jurgen Klopp’s side and moved them two points ahead of City, who have a game in hand, at the top of the table.

City travel to Manchester United on Wednesday in what appears the toughest hurdle left for the English champions to clear and deny Liverpool a first Premier League title in 29 years.

The Reds remain poised to pounce if Pep Guardiola’s side fail to pick up maximum points in their remaining four games.

While Liverpool were cruising into a second successive Champions League semifinal in midweek, Cardiff gave their chances of survival a huge boost with a 2-0 win at Brighton to close within three points of safety.

If Neil Warnock’s men are to defy the odds to stay up, it is upcoming games against already relegated Fulham and Crystal Palace they will need to win, but they did not make life easy for Liverpool.

The visitors should have taken the lead midway through the first-half when their front three clicked together for the first time when Mohamed Salah fed Sadio Mane and the Senegalese’s pass put Roberto Firmino clean through on goal. However, the Brazilian blazed over with just Neil Etheridge to beat.

Salah has found his form in front of goal at the right time for Liverpool’s bid for a Premier League and Champions League double.

However, after scoring in three of his past four games, Salah could not keep that streak going as he fired too close to Etheridge when played in by Jordan Henderson.

Cardiff’s massed ranks of defence allowed Liverpool to enjoy nearly 75 percent possession, but the home team did not pose a threat of their own until they nearly took a shock lead just before the break.

Victor Camarasa’s mishit shot fell kindly for Oumar Niasse and the on loan Everton striker nearly brought even more a smile to fans of his parent club on a day they beat Manchester United 4-0, but his shot was turned over by Alisson Becker.

There was little reason for Liverpool to panic at halftime as their previous four Premier League games had also been won with second-half goals and so it proved once more.

Trent Alexander-Arnold bagged his 10th assist of the season as the England international’s corner was pulled back for Wijnaldum to lash into the net first time.

Liverpool’s midfield has begun to chip in with crucial goals at the right time of the season and Henderson should have provided another moments later when he fired wastefully over with the goal at his mercy.

Klopp vented his frustration at Henderson’s miss and it was nearly costly when Cardiff captain Sean Morrison had a glorious chance to level 26 minutes from time.

Morrison seemed to have the simple task of heading into an empty net as Alisson got caught underneath a corner, but he mistimed his header and the ball instead bounced to safety off his back.

And Morrison was the Cardiff villain at the other end when he was adjudged to have brought down Salah inside the area 10 minutes from time and substitute Milner confidently dispatched the spot-kick.

Meanwhile, Arsenal’s bid for a top four finish in the Premier League suffered a major setback as Crystal Palace punished their sluggish display to claim a shock 3-2 win last night.

Unai Emery’s side paid the price for a defensive horror show at the Emirates Stadium to leave their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League via the domestic route hanging in the balance.

The Gunners, who can also reach the competition by winning the Europa League, fell behind to Christian Benteke’s first goal for a year before Mesut Ozil equalised early in the second half.

Shkodran Mustafi’s blunder allowed Wilfried Zaha to put Palace back in front.

James McArthur took advantage of more woeful Arsenal defending to make it three and, although Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang reduced the deficit, it was too late to stop Palace’s first league win at Arsenal since October 1994.

Arsenal sit in fourth place, level on points with Chelsea, who will go above them if they avoid defeat against Burnley tonight.

Arsenal’s top four challenge had been fuelled by their impressive home form and their first league loss at the Emirates since the opening weekend of the season was hugely damaging.

Arsenal had won 12 of their last 13 home games in all competitions, but the end of that streak puts them in the tricky position of needing to improve their dismal away record when they travel to Wolves and Leicester this week.

Emery made seven changes from Thursday’s Europa League quarterfinal win at Napoli in a bid to freshen up his side and, as a result, Arsenal never looked in sync.

They were authors of their own downfall when Palace took the lead in the 17th minute.

Benteke won a free-kick wide on the right and when it was curled in, Mustafi and Konstantinos Mavropanos both stood watching as Benteke thundered past them to head home from close-range.

It was the much-maligned Benteke’s first goal since he scored against Leicester in April 2018, ending the Belgian striker’s 19-game drought in his 200th Premier League appearance.

Mustafi was guilty of appealing for offside rather than following Benteke for the goal and the centre-back produced another costly miscue moments later when he headed over from close-range.

It was that kind of afternoon for Arsenal, who felt Palace’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka should have conceded a penalty when he blocked a cross with his hands.

Zaha says he wants to leave to play in the Champions League next season and the forward gave a glimpse of his class when he accelerated away for a cross that Benteke ballooned over the bar.

Emery sent on Alex Iwobi and Ainsley Maitland-Niles at halftime, and the changes helped Arsenal draw level two minutes after the restart.

Iwobi slipped a pass to Alexandre Lacazette on the edge of the area and the Arsenal forward picked out Ozil, who beat Vicente Guaita with a fine strike at his near post.

But Mustafi’s day to forget hit a new low in the 61st minute as Palace went back in front after another mistake from the German.

When Benteke flicked a header towards the Arsenal area, Mustafi seemed unware of Zaha’s presence behind him.

Holding out his arms to indicate the ball would run to keeper Bernd Leno, he bizarrely allowed the Ivorian to run past him and clip a cool finish into the far corner.

Shell-shocked Arsenal crumbled again as Palace made it three in the 69th minute.

Having already won at Manchester City in December, Roy Hodgson’s side were on course for another famous scalp when Scott Dann nodded goalwards and McArthur headed past Leno.

Aubameyang capped an incisive burst with his 24th goal of the season in the 77th minute.

But it was too late to spare Arsenal’s blushes as Matteo Guendouzi wasted their last chance with a weak finish.

Earlier in the day, Everton produced a thrilling display to outclass a woeful Manchester United at Goodison Park and expose all the problems facing Red Devils manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

United face a fight to secure a Premier League top-four place and Champions League football next season after 90 minutes which were little other than torture against a rampant Everton.

United goalkeeper David de Gea had saved superbly from Richarlison before the Brazilian hooked in an acrobatic 13th-minute volley to set the tone for a magnificent display from Marco Silva’s side.

De Gea was beaten by Gylfi Sigurdsson’s low 25-yard drive, going down late, as Everton took total control.

Everton did not let up after the break, Lucas Digne scoring from long range after De Gea punched out a corner, before substitute Theo Walcott ran clear on to Sigurdsson’s pass to slide home the fourth.

United have lost six of their past eight games in all competitions, while a fifth successive away defeat – for the first time since 1981 – leaves them facing the prospect of Europa League football next season.

Everton are on a hot streak at Goodison Park but this can rank alongside the finest displays seen at the famous old stadium in many seasons.

Yes, much will be made of United’s obvious deficiencies, but it would be a gross injustice to ignore a magnificent performance from a side who have drawn with Liverpool and beaten Chelsea, Arsenal and United in their past four home games without conceding a goal.

Everton swarmed all over United from the first whistle and there was never a moment when they looked like relinquishing control.

Silva’s pressing approach saw United harassed mercilessly for 90 minutes, but this was not simply about work-rate – Everton were full of skill, pace and athleticism.

Idrissa Gueye was the fulcrum in midfield while Sigurdsson and the gifted Brazilian Bernard were the creators-in-chief from first to last.

There may have been some doubts expressed about Silva’s position not so long ago, but this blistering run of home form – and a style which will win full favour from Everton’s fans – surely means he will be given time to build, as he should.

United were reduced to being ironically cheered by their own supporters for merely stringing three passes together with Everton 4-0 up and in cruise control.

Solskjaer’s side were quite simply over-run and did not even show the heart or fighting spirit to escape from a joyous Goodison with any dignity on a desperate day.

There was simply nothing good about this United performance. Indeed, given Everton’s superiority, they were fortunate the scoreline did not have an even more embarrassing appearance.

Paul Pogba strolled around midfield while Gueye, Morgan Schneiderlin and Sigurdsson snapped into challenges, and it was a nightmare return to Everton for striker Romelu Lukaku.

Taunted throughout, he could not do a thing right and his afternoon simply went from bad to worse.

He was not alone. De Gea may have saved well from Richarlison early on but he was slow to react to Sigurdsson’s shot and it was his punch that fell at Digne’s feet to score. The Spain keeper is having a mixed season.

It was five years ago to the day since a 2-0 loss here ended David Moyes’ reign – and this United performance was even worse than that.

Solksjaer has inherited a mess, the early gloss from his arrival has worn off and players like Pogba and Lukaku, who were revived after Jose Mourinho was sacked, look back to their bad old ways.

Now there is the small matter of the derby against title-chasing Manchester City at Old Trafford on Wednesday.