A record win for Arsenal. An absolutely critical one for Manchester United.
After Arsenal hammered West Ham 6-0 for its biggest ever Premier League away victory, United beat Aston Villa 2-1 in a huge result in the race for Champions League qualification.
Arsenal might be in its best form this season. Last weekend, Mikel Arteta’s team was handing league leader Liverpool only its second loss to tighten up the title race and here it was running amok inside the Olympic Stadium, which rapidly emptied after West Ham fell 4-0 behind just before halftime.
Bukayo Saka scored twice and Declan Rice — a former West Ham favorite — added the sixth goal almost apologetically.
Arsenal joined Manchester City just two points behind Liverpool. All three of the big title contenders won this weekend.
United’s aspirations are simply to finish in the top four — or five — to get into the Champions League and that would have been a long shot had the visitors lost at Villa Park.
Instead, there’s only five points — rather than 11 — between United in sixth and Villa in fifth after Scott McTominay headed in an 86th-minute winner to earn his team a third straight league victory. Rasmus Hojlund opened the scoring for United and has now netted in five straight league matches.
Disgruntled West Ham’s fans streamed out of their ground in their hundreds prior to the halftime whistle, well before their former star player condemned the team to its joint-heaviest loss of all time.
It just had to be Rice running onto the ball and curling a long-range strike into the top corner to put the seal on an almost embarrassingly easy win for Arsenal.
Rice used to be West Ham’s best player, with his relentless energy, lung-busting runs and covering tackles. Now here he was, playing a big part in a clinic by Arsenal, with the home supporters’ booing of his every touch maybe spurring him on.
Rice’s set-piece deliveries set up first-half goals for William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes, with Saka and Leandro Trossard also scoring before the break. After Saka’s second, Rice scored and didn’t even celebrate, holding up both of his hands apologetically instead. He was even applauded by some home supporters when he was substituted moments later.
Signed in July for 105 million pounds (then $138 million), it is looking like money well spent by Arsenal.
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80
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