Mata inspires Manchester United to win over Cardiff
LONDON - Arsenal's wings were clipped in a 2-2 draw at Southampton as they missed a chance to soar four points clear in the Premier League title race while Liverpool thrashed Everton and Manchester United beat Cardiff on Tuesday.
With Manchester City and Chelsea playing on Wednesday, Arsenal could have stolen a march on their rivals but, like their team bus that was late arriving after getting stuck in traffic, they struggled to move out of second gear.
Arsene Wenger's side started slowly and were caught out by Jose Fonte's early goal and Adam Lallana's second-half equaliser either side of strikes from Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla.
There was no sluggishness about Liverpool, whose 15-year home hoodoo over rivals Everton continued with Daniel Sturridge scoring twice in a 4-0 win, while Dutchman Robin van Persie came back with a bang as Manchester United eased past Cardiff 2-0.
Arsenal, who had Mathieu Flamini sent off 10 minutes from time, are two points ahead of Manchester City and three above Chelsea but could drop to third if their rivals win on Wednesday at Tottenham Hotspur and home to West Ham United respectively.
"They have difficult games as well and we took at least a point," said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. "It's not enough but, considering the situation at halftime (when Arsenal were losing 1-0), we have to be content with it."
Fourth-placed Liverpool revived their own faint title hopes with their biggest win over Everton since 1982 and now sit six points behind Arsenal, and four ahead of their Merseyside rivals, while United stay seventh a further six points adrift.
It is not often Arsenal find themselves chasing possession, but Southampton gave the leaders the run-around in the first half and deservedly took the lead after 21 minutes.
Luke Shaw curled in a delightful cross from the left wing to pick out Fonte at the far post and he headed home.
Wenger's halftime team talk rallied his side and they were swiftly level after the restart with Giroud backheeling past Artur Boruc after turning on a Bacary Sagna cross before Cazorla buried a low shot to put them ahead four minutes later.
But they could not close the game out and Lallana turned in a Jay Rodriguez cross to level before French midfielder Flamini was given his marching orders for a rash challenge.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard powered in a 21st minute header to open the scoring at Anfield but it was Sturridge who took the game away from their Merseyside rivals, showcasing his finishing talents before Luis Suarez completed the rout.
Sturridge struck twice in two minutes past the half-hour just as Everton seemed to be gaining a foothold in the match, yet both his goals would have left Everton manager Roberto Martinez scratching his head at his side's shoddy defending.
Midfielder Philippe Coutinho sent Sturridge racing through unchecked to fire left-footed past Tim Howard for his first goal while the England forward's second came from a hopeful long ball.
Sturridge looked disorientated when Kolo Toure's punt upfield found its way through to him as Everton pushed up for offside, but he regained his bearings to swivel and lob a smart finish past the advancing Howard and into the net.
He blotted his copy book somewhat by scooping a penalty over the bar in the second half after Suarez had run half the length of the pitch and calmly finished to make it 4-0, taking his league tally to 23 for the season to equal last term's total.
After Liverpool had been overrun for periods of their 2-2 draw with Aston Villa in their last home game with Suarez and Sturridge together up front, manager Brendan Rodgers admitted it was uncertain whether he would repeat the experiment.
"It was a gamble to go with two strikers but that's the reason we took the risk. We got four goals and could have had six or seven. It was a brilliant demonstration of how to play under pressure," he said.
With record signing Juan Mata making his debut for Manchester United after joining from Chelsea last week, the champions enjoyed a double boost as Van Persie made his first appearance since Dec. 10 after injury.
He marked the occasion with the first goal before Ashley Young wrapped up the points to leave Cardiff bottom after a painful, if warmly applauded, return to Old Trafford for City's new manager and former United forward Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Mata had a part to play in United's opener, giving the home fans a taste of his playmaking abilities with a raking crossfield ball to start the move from which Van Persie found the net at the second attempt with a close-range header.
Perhaps inspired by Mata's arrival, Young found some of his old form to cut in from the left, beat two men and rifle home from distance.
Mid-table Swansea City won 2-0 at home to lowly Fulham to record their first league victory since Dec. 4, while Norwich City and Newcastle United drew 0-0 at Carrow Road with City's Bradley Johnson and United's Loic Remy sent off after a clash.
Crystal Palace moved five points clear of the relegation zone with a 1-0 win at home to Hull City. (Reporting by Toby Davis; Editing by Ken Ferris)