Manchester United put the pain of their Champions League exit behind them with a 4-1 Premier League win at home to strugglers Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday.
Victory, secured by two goals apiece from Nani and Wayne Rooney, saw the champions close to within two points of leaders Manchester City, but their rivals — also knocked out of the Champions League in midweek — can restore their five-point advantage at the top if they win away to Chelsea today.
Nani gave United a 17th-minute lead at Old Trafford with a low shot from 20m for his first goal in 18 games and 10 minutes later Rooney shot through a crowd of players gave the England striker his first league goal in nine games.
Steven Fletcher pulled a goal back for Wolves early in the second half, but United restored their two-goal lead after Nani turned in Antonio Valencia’s cross.
Valencia was also the provider when Rooney made it 4-1.
“I always say December is an important month — if we get to the New Year still in the frame, we have a great chance,” United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said.
Elsewhere, Arsenal marked their 125th anniversary with a 1-0 win at home to Everton thanks to a goal from in-form striker Robin van Persie.
The Dutch international broke the deadlock at the Emirates with a brilliant left-foot volley 20 minutes from time.
“It’s an art Robin has mastered well,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. “We are also grateful for three points against a good Everton side.”
Liverpool beat Queens Park Rangers 1-0 at Anfield thanks to Luis Suarez’s first goal in six games, with the Uruguayan heading home two minutes after halftime.
Norwich City held off 10-man Newcastle United to win 4-2 at Carrow Road.
Newcastle fell behind when, from a 39th-minute corner, a goalmouth scramble ended with Wes Hoolahan putting the Canaries ahead, but Newcastle were level before halftime when striker Demba Ba ran on to Yohan Cabaye’s through ball for his 10th goal in as many league games.
Norwich then scored two goals in four minutes with headers from Grant Holt and Steve Morison.
Newcastle, who had Dan Gosling red-carded, made it 3-2 when Ba scored his second, but Holt calmed Norwich nerves when he headed in from 12m to make the score 4-2.
“You can’t concede from three set-plays in the Premier League like we did, but any team would struggle with the injuries we’ve got in central defense,” Newcastle manager Alan Pardew said. “We’re still aiming for a top seven or eight finish if we can.”
Wigan Athletic climbed off the bottom with a come-from-behind 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion.
The Baggies went ahead at the Hawthorns when midfielder Steven Reid curled in a 22m free-kick, but minutes later Victor Moses drew Wigan level with a curling strike from the edge of the box.
Wigan went ahead in the 57th minute when Jordi Gomez scored from the penalty spot after Reid fouled Moses.
“We showed great composure and I was extremely proud,” Wigan manager Roberto Martinez said.
Aston Villa took the lead away to struggling Bolton Wanderers when the unmarked Marc Albrighton turned in a cross from Gabriel Agbonlahor 12 minutes before halftime and more poor defending gave Stiliyan Petrov room for a long-range shot that went in via a deflection off Gary Cahill.
Bolton hit back when Ivan Klasnic scored in the 55th minute, but they were unable to find another goal and Owen Coyle’s men are now propping up the table.
“We are left to rue one sloppy 10-minute period,” Coyle said.
Swansea City defeated Fulham 2-0, with Scott Sinclair opening the scoring with a 56th-minute strike which was deflected into his own net by Clint Dempsey.
US international Dempsey had the chance to equalize, but his penalty was superbly saved by Michel Vorm.
Swansea substitute Danny Graham then sealed victory on the stroke of fulltime.