City on top of Premier League as United stay in touch

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LONDON, England December 19 – Manchester City were left two points in front of champions Manchester United at the top of the English Premier League after a 1-0 win at home to Arsenal on Sunday.

David Silva scored the only goal of a high-quality contest in the 53rd minute after Mario Balotelli cut in from the left and let fly with a powerful low shot that Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny did well to save but could not hold.

Sergio Aguero followed up and, as the ball came loose on the right, Silva pounced to score from close range.

City, beaten by Chelsea last time out, missed several chances to double their lead and were almost made to pay when in-form Arsenal striker Robin van Persie shot weakly at England goalkeeper Joe Hart from eight yards.

Then Argentina defender Pablo Zabaleta nearly made it 2-0 to the hosts when his shot beat Szczesny only to bounce off the keeper’s right post.

Hart then preserved City’s lead in the 90th minute when he tipped over a shot from Thomas Vermaelen that came through a crowd of players. In stoppage time, another Vermaelen strike curled just wide.

Defeat meant Arsenal, beaten for the first time in nine games, stayed fifth in the table, 12 points behind City.

“It was very important after Chelsea — we didn’t deserve to lose that game,” said City manager Roberto Mancini.

“It was a big test for our character and I think we showed we are a strong team…we know we shall fight with United and Tottenham and the other teams who are very strong.”

His Arsenal counterpart, Arsene Wenger, added: “We were unlucky because we had chances.”

Earlier on Sunday, United returned to the summit for a couple of hours after a 2-0 win away to Queens Park Rangers.

Wayne Rooney needed fewer than 60 seconds to open the scoring at Loftus Road before Michael Carrick made the game safe for the visitors in the 56th minute.

United went ahead when England striker Rooney headed home a cross from Antonio Valencia after releasing the Ecuadorian down the right.

The champions doubled their lead early in the second half when Carrick intercepted a loose square ball from Rangers midfielder Joey Barton.

England international Carrick was allowed to advance by the Londoners’ retreating defence and then beat Radek Cerny at the goalkeeper’s near post with a shot from the edge of the box for what was his first Premier League goal in nearly two years.

“It was a good team performance; we played some good football and will take a 2-0 win away from home,” said United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Meanwhile Tottenham moved up into third place, leapfrogging Chelsea to become London’s top club, with a 1-0 win at home to strugglers Sunderland.

Russia striker Roman Pavlyuchenko scored the only goal of the game at White Hart Lane just after the hour mark.

A stray ball from Sunderland’s Wes Brown found its way to Rafael van der Vaart, whose clever reverse pass allowed Pavlyuchenko to fire home the winner.

“Pav is a fantastic player, he’s got great ability, he’s a great finisher — top drawer as a player,” said Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp.

Liverpool went above Newcastle and into sixth spot with a 2-0 win away to Aston Villa.

Both their goals came from corners, with Craig Bellamy forcing the ball home from close range in the 11th minute.

And four minutes later, the unmarked Martin Skrtel rose highest to head in past American keeper Brad Guzan before Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was twice denied by the woodwork.

“We passed the ball and moved it and hit the bar twice — I think it was well deserved three points for us,” said Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish.

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