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English Premiership

United and Gunners keep up the chase

LONDON, December 31 – Manchester United closed the gap on Premier League leaders Chelsea to two points with a 5-0 rout of Wigan, while Arsenal are also firmly in the title race after thrashing Portsmouth 4-1 on Wednesday.
In the last Premier League games of the decade, it was fitting that United and Arsenal – who have enjoyed more success than most over the last 10 years – should produce resounding victories.

Reigning champions United, second in the table, were far too strong for Wigan and bolstered their goal difference in emphatic fashion at Old Trafford.

Wayne Rooney opened the scoring in the 28th minute when he converted Rafael da Silva’s cross for his seventh goal in seven games.

A typically incisive United move in the 32nd minute shattered Wigan’s morale as Michael Carrick turned in Antonio Valencia’s cross.

Brazilian defender Rafael added United’s third goal on the stroke of half-time when he punished poor defending to fire home.

Dimitar Berbatov produced a cool finish in the 50th minute before former Wigan winger Valencia capped a magnificent United display with the fifth goal in the 75th minute.

"It’s possible we could have had more but I’m happy with five. It was good performance, that’s the important thing," United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said.

"The key is we are getting defenders back. Having (Nemanja) Vidic and (Wes) Brown back makes a tremendous difference to the team and our balance and composure.

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"If we get the rest of them back in the second part of the year you will see a much better team."

Third placed Arsenal remain hot on the heels of the top two after cruising past crisis club Portsmouth for their fifth win in six league games.

Arsene Wenger’s side were 11 points behind Chelsea last month but they have closed that gap to four points, with a game in hand, thanks to goals from Eduardo, Samir Nasri, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Song at Fratton Park.

"Everybody tells us to buy strikers but we score goals and we believe our team-play allows us to score," Wenger told Sky Sports.

"It was a very competitive game, but we looked like a team that were ready for it.

"We’re up for it, the commitment is there and the talent is there. We’ll fight and this team is ready to give everything."

The Gunners, without injured captain Cesc Fabregas, completely out-classed Portsmouth, who remain bottom of the table and four points from safety heading into the New Year.

The news that HM Revenue and Customs have issued a winding-up order that could leave Portsmouth facing bankruptcy was hardly the best pre-match preparation and it wasn’t long before the day got even worse for boss Avram Grant.

In the 28th minute, Eduardo’s free-kick took a wicked deflection off Portsmouth defender Younes Kaboul and flashed past wrong-footed goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and team-mate Hermann Hreidarsson on the line.

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Nasri put Arsenal in complete control in the 42nd minute when the France midfielder took Ramsey’s pass and drilled a low shot past Begovic for his first league goal since March.

Ramsey went from provider to scorer in the 69th minute as the Wales midfielder won a tackle on the edge of the penalty area and lashed in a superb strike.

Nadir Belhadj got one back for Portsmouth in the 74th minute but the defender’s effort, which deflected off Thomas Vermaelen, was followed by Song’s 81st minute header from Nasri’s cross.



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