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Utd extend lead further as Cazorla gives Gunners boost

ESPN staff
February 23, 2013 « Ross County go fifth, Caley hit three | Chartbeat test »
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Manchester United opened up a 15-point lead in the Premier League with a comfortable win over QPR on Saturday, as Santi Cazorla inspired Arsenal to a crucial win over Aston Villa as they stepped up their pursuit of fourth.

Elsewhere, Wigan ran riot at the Madejski Stadium to enhance their survival prospects at the expense of Reading - as Norwich dented Everton's slipping European ambitions with a come-from-behind home win and Romelu Lukaku guided West Brom to victory over Sunderland.

Meanwhile, in the day's early game, Fulham edged Stoke thanks to Dimitar Berbatov.

Premier League results and table

Even an early injury for Robin van Persie could not disrupt Manchester United, as they moved 15 points clear at the top of the table with a 2-0 win over relegation-threatened QPR.

Harry Redknapp's side now sit seven points adrift of safety - and six points off even 19th placed Reading - after a wonderful first-time strike from Rafael and composed finish from Ryan Giggs decided the game at Loftus Road.

Van Persie, meanwhile, was substituted shortly after an awkward collision with some pitchside cameras in the build-up to Rafael's opener - with the Dutchman appearing to complain about his hip as he walked down the tunnel.

Rafael's goal was a wonderful finish worthy of beating Julio Cesar - who once again prevented the scoreline from reaching a higher number for the outmuscled west Londoners. The full-back rushed onto the ball around 25 yards out, meeting it with a sweet first-time effort that rocketed right into the top corner.

United continued to probe Cesar but it was not until late in the second half that they killed matters off. In the end it was the guile of Giggs that got the job done, the Welshman taking Welbeck's slipped pass before slotting a low shot under Cesar.

Santi Cazorla scored two important goals for Arsenal © Getty Images
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Elsewhere, Arsenal pulled within a point of arch-rivals Tottenham - for a short while, at least - in the race for fourth, as Santi Cazorla completed a brace late on to down luckless Aston Villa.

The Spaniard combined with former Malaga team-mate Nacho Monreal to beat Brad Guzan for the second time in the afternoon with just five minutes remaining, giving Gunners fans - not to mention manager Arsene Wenger - some respite after a difficult week.

Cazorla had also opened the scoring after five minutes with a driven right-footed shot across the goalkeeper, but Andreas Weimann - converting from a Charles N'Zogbia header after another mistake from Wojciech Szczesny - had briefly given Paul Lambert's side hope of a surprise point when he found the net with 20 minutes still to play.

Instead, however, the Villans slipped back into the relegation zone on goal difference.

Everton's hopes of Champions League qualification were further diminished after they fell to a late 2-1 defeat against Norwich City at Carrow Road.

Goals for Kei Kamara - his first in English football - and Grant Holt - his first in nine games - propelled the Canaries to a dramatic late victory, cancelling out Leon Osman's earlier finish.

The result was perhaps harsh on the Toffees, who dominated the contest for large spells, but the likes of Marouane Fellaini were guilty of wasting good openings as the Merseyside team's profligacy in attack ultimately came to cost them.

David Moyes' side are now six points behind Spurs having played a game more, while Norwich sit eight points clear of the relegation battle at the bottom.

In the thick of that battle, Wigan picked up a crucial three points with an emphatic 3-0 away win over fellow strugglers Reading, who also had striker Pavel Pogrebnyak sent off.

The Latics had two goals just before half-time from Arouna Kone to thank as they took the points, the African forward turning home from close range at a corner to break the deadlock, before rifling home a low shot from the edge of the area barely two minutes later.

A third goal - this time for Maynor Figueroa, who profited from a Franco di Santo touch to turn home in front of Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici - effectively ended the contest two minutes after the restart, before Figueroa was fouled by Pogrebnyak in an offence that saw the Russian dismissed.

Despite the numerical disadvantage Reading created a few opportunities to get back into the match, but the likes of Jobi McAnuff and Ian Harte never came up with quite the right effort to breach Ali Al-Habsi's defence.

Maynor Figueroa helped Wigan to an important victory © PA Photos
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On-loan Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku scored twice as West Brom defeated Sunderland 2-1 at The Hawthorns.

Lukaku was initially entrusted with the responsibility of converting from the spot after Craig Gardner was adjudged to have handled in the box in the first half, and the Belgian made no mistake as he placed his effort beyond compatriot Simon Mignolet to put the Baggies on course for victory.

Midway through the second half Lukaku completed a brace with a powerful drive into the bottom corner from 20 yards, before Stephane Sessegnon halved the deficit to set up a tense final 10 minutes.

Lukaku was the star of the show, however, and could have had a hat-trick after he saw what appeared to be a perfectly good goal ruled out for offside just minutes before Gardner's illegal intervention, as the youngster continued to terrorise the Sunderland defence all afternoon.

With Peter Odemwingie - slowly welcomed back into the fold - watching from among the substitutes, Lukaku and Shane Long impressed as a partnership, although Sunderland did have their chances; Sessegnon in particular seeing a goalbound effort cleared away by the alert Youssouf Mulumbu as his goal, after receiving the ball from James McClean in the box, proved insufficient.

In the day's early kick-off, Dimitar Berbatov produced a stunning volley to secure all three points for Fulham against Stoke City - but the visitors to Craven Cottage were their own worst enemies and spurned a number of chances to draw level, including a penalty.

Despite standing within two yards of where the ball flew into the net, Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic cannot be blamed for letting in the Bulgarian's bending shot.

Robert Huth headed away Sascha Riether's out-swinging cross but it only looped as far as Berbatov and in languid style he made the visitors pay.

Stoke had two good chances to draw level in the second half through Peter Crouch firstly and then Jonathan Walters.

The latter saw his penalty, given for a handball by Ashkan Dejagah, saved by Mark Schwarzer on 55 minutes. The Australian's excellent, or fortuitous, anticipation meant he was almost waiting for Walters' penalty to arrive after diving early to his right.

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