LONDON: Arsenal are back in the hunt to qualify for the Champions League after Arsene Wenger finally got the better of Jose Mourinho in a 2-0 win over Manchester United, while Liverpool were held to a 0-0 draw by Southampton on Sunday.
Wenger had failed to win any of his previous 14 competitive clashes against Mourinho dating back to 2004, with his only victory over his old rival coming in the 2015 Community Shield when the Portuguese coach was in charge of Chelsea.
The Gunners boss brought an end to that frustrating streak at just the right time as goals from Granit Xhaka and Danny Welbeck improved Arsenal’s chances of salvaging a troubled season by finishing in the top four.
Sixth-placed Arsenal are now six points behind fourth placed Manchester City with four games to play, while Pep Guardiola’s side have only three matches remaining.
Fifth-placed United remain four points behind City with three games left.
With Mourinho prioritising the Europa League semi-final second leg against Celta Vigo in midweek, United, who hold a 1-0 first leg lead, fielded a much-changed side in north London.
United can qualify for the Champions League by winning the Europa League and they may well need to do exactly that after surrendering their 25-match unbeaten run in the Premier League.
The Gunners’ only route back into Europe’s elite club competition is via a top four finish, so it wasn’t surprising that they played with more hunger than United.
United were undone after the break with Xhaka’s 25-metre shot looping up off Ander Herrera to catch out keeper David De Gea after 54 minutes and then Welbeck heading the second against his former side from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross. Infamously labelled “a voyeur” and “a specialist in failure” by Mourinho in the past, this was a sweet moment for Wenger, but it won’t mean much unless Arsenal find a way to catch City.
At Anfield, Liverpool’s James Milner saw his penalty saved by Fraser Forster as his side wasted a chance to bolster their Champions League bid.
It was Milner’s first missed penalty since November 2009, when he was playing for Aston Villa against Bolton, and it summed up the feeling that this would not be Liverpool’s day.
Liverpool’s second half penalty arrived when Jack Stephens elbowed away the ball inside the area.
It was well spotted by referee Bobby Madley and although Milner’s spot-kick was right in the corner, Forster did well to get down and palm the effort away.
Liverpool are up to third, five points ahead of United, who have a game in hand.
Reds boss Jurgen Klopp had a curious excuse for Liverpool’s woes as he blamed the poor quality of the Anfield pitch.
“Nobody wants to hear it but the pitch was really dry today,” Klopp said.
“We gave all the water we had and after 15 minutes it was really dry — a lot of passes you could say why are they playing this? In a home game, you have to have the best circumstances but we couldn’t have this.”
In Saturday’s late match, the battle to avoid Premier League relegation took a significant twist as Swansea City beat Everton 1-0 to climb out of the bottom three.
Fernando Llorente headed the solitary goal as Swansea held on to register a nervous victory to leapfrog Hull City into 17th place with two games left.
Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2017