Liverpool close in on title as Arsenal cling to fourth
Reds secure Champions League spot, and the ultimate prize is in their sights
ONE game at a time, that was the message from Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers as his side took another significant step towards their first Premier League title in 24 years. With Manchester City and Chelsea having slipped up against Sunderland in recent days, Liverpool travelled to Norwich on Sunday knowing that a victory would open up a five-point gap between themselves and their two closest rivals.
The Reds raced into an early lead when Raheem Sterling fired home on four minutes and Luis Suarez then doubled Liverpool's advantage with his 30th goal of the season. Norwich were sharper after the break and pulled a goal back through Gary Hooper, but the outstanding Sterling restored the Reds' two-goal lead on the hour mark. Robert Snodgrass's late strike proved nothing more than a consolation as Liverpool notched their 11th consecutive league victory and condemned the Canaries – who remain two points above the red zone – to a bitter relegation dogfight over the coming weeks.
"The objective at the start of the season was to qualify for the Champions League - that was always going to be an incredible task but now we know we cannot finish lower than third," said Rodgers. "We will go into the next three games looking to perform well. We want to continue to fight and now look to Chelsea next week."
Chelsea's shock defeat at home to Sunderland on Saturday means the Blues will require a minor miracle to win the title but nonetheless Suarez is taking nothing for granted. "In football you never know what happens, we'll keep calm and focus on the next game which is Chelsea," explained the Uruguayan striker.
While Liverpool are guaranteed Champions League football next season thanks to their win over Norwich, the same cannot be said of either Arsenal and Everton, both of whom remain locked in a battle to finish fourth. The Gunners helped themselves in that regard with an impressive 3-0 defeat away at Hull in what was a dress rehearsal for next month's FA Cup Final.
Once Arsenal had weathered some early pressure from Hull, they picked up from where they had left off in their midweek win over West Ham. Aaron Ramsey, back to his best after his three-month injury lay-off, put Arsenal ahead on the half-hour mark and the in-form Lukas Podolski – who scored a double against West Ham on Tuesday – added the second on the stroke of half-time.
The German international grabbed his second on 54 minutes as Arsenal strolled to victory and put a smile on the face of manager Arsene Wenger. "Overall it was a positive performance because I think if you look at our individual performances all over the pitch they were good," said the Frenchman. "We knew we had to win today and we had that kind of pressure. But I think you could already see that against West Ham there is something better in our game and today there was much more oil in the engine again."
There was also plenty of oil in the Everton engine on Sunday as they got back on track after the surprise defeat to Crystal Palace on Wednesday with a 2-0 victory over a toothless Manchester United side. A penalty from Leighton Baines and a Kevin Mirallas goal secured three points for the Toffees, and the win keeps them just one point behind the Gunners. "The next three games are exciting and we will try and get as many points as possible," said Everton manager Roberto Martinez. "We don't expect Arsenal to drop points easily, we are just looking at ourselves and trying to achieve the maximum number of points we can." ·