Manchester United inch toward their 20th title; Arsenal beat Aston Villa 2-1

Reuters, LONDON

Mon, Feb 25, 2013 - Page 20

Leaders Manchester United moved closer to a 20th title and pushed Queens Park Rangers (QPR) nearer to relegation when goals from Rafael and Ryan Giggs gave them a 2-0 win at the bottom side in the Premier League on Saturday.

The victory put United 15 points clear of champions Manchester City, who were scheduled to face third-placed Chelsea at home yesterday.

Arsenal ended a difficult week following home defeats by Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup and Bayern Munich in the Champions League by beating Aston Villa 2-1, with two goals from Santi Cazorla, to move within a point of fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, who play at West Ham United on Monday.

Wigan Athletic improved their chances of avoiding the drop when they won 3-0 at fellow strugglers Reading and moved above them and Villa, and out of the relegation zone.

United, who last lost at Loftus Road in the old first division in May 1989, went ahead there when Rafael blasted an unstoppable 30m shot past his fellow Brazilian, goalkeeper Julio Cesar, in the 23rd minute.

Giggs, playing in his 999th senior match, made it 2-0 to Alex Ferguson’s side 10 minutes from time when he sent the goalkeeper the wrong way.

Ferguson was full of praise for his side, especially the two scorers, telling Sky Sports: “We got a fantastic goal to set us up to make sure we were going to be hard to beat.”

Across London, Arsenal ended their run of two successive home defeats with their win over Villa thanks to a double from Cazorla, with the first coming six minutes from the start and the winner five minutes from the end.

In between, Andreas Weimann equalized for Villa after 68 minutes.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was a relieved man.

“We came out of two massive disappointments and the team were a bit nervous, but focused at the start. Overall, it was a deserved win and gets us again in a more serene atmosphere,” he said

Wigan Athletic’s 3-0 win at Reading included two goals from Arouna Kone and one by Maynor Figueroa, before the hosts had Pavel Pogrebnyak sent off early in the second half for a rash challenge on Figueroa.

Wigan, who now have 24 points, moved out of the relegation zone and above Villa (24) and Reading (23), with QPR adrift on 17.

Dimitar Berbatov struck a superb volley to give Fulham a 1-0 win over Stoke City in an early mid-table clash, but the visitors spurned a chance to equalize when Jon Walters’ poorly taken penalty was saved by Mark Schwarzer after 56 minutes.

In other games, Norwich City got two late goals to beat Everton 2-1 and dent the visitors’ chances of a top-four finish, while West Bromwich Albion overcame Sunderland by the same score at The Hawthorns.