Visiting Liverpool blanks United
Liverpool skipper Gerrard dispatched spot-kicks either side of halftime as the in-form Merseysiders humbled bitter north west rivals Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford.
He also thumped the post with a third penalty but Liverpool won at United for only the second time in nearly 10 years, Luis Suarez scoring his 25th league goal of the season to pile on the agony for the hosts who had Nemanja Vidic sent off.
Liverpool’s win put the onus on Arsenal to respond and they did so at north London rival Tottenham Hotspur, although their grinding victory in bright spring sunshine was in marked contrast to Liverpool’s stroll.
Rosicky’s spectacular shot after 72 seconds proved enough to seal the points for Arsenal and move them alongside second-place Liverpool on 62 points from 29 games, four behind Chelsea, which has played one match more.
With Manchester City on 60 points from only 27 games, a thrilling final two months are in store in the title race, with Liverpool emerging as serious threats to end their 24-year title drought.
“I think we showed today that we are genuine contenders and we’re going to fight till the end for this,” said Gerrard, who was a goalpost away from becoming the first player to score a hat-trick of penalties in the Premier League.
“This is one of the most difficult places to come to in the Premier League. So to come here and dominate from start to finish was great. We’re still going away slightly disappointed that we didn’t score more goals.”
There was a desperate look about a United side that managed only one shot on target, and their hopes of finishing in the top four are slipping away. They remain in seventh place, 12 points behind fourth-place Man City.
“It’s one of the worst days I’ve ever had in football,” said United striker Wayne Rooney, the only player to test Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet. “It’s hard to take. You have to give Liverpool credit - they played well - but it’s difficult to take. Nobody wants to lose, especially in this way, in your own stadium. It’s not nice.”
Manager David Moyes, whose first season in charge of United has been a chastening experience, conceded his side was now struggling to qualify for next season’s Champions League, unless they overturn a 2-0 deficit against Olympiakos in Wednesday’s last-16 tie and go on to win the trophy.
“It looks like we are a long way off it, we are well aware of that but we are going to keep fighting,” said the Scot.
A free-flowing Liverpool could have won by an even bigger margin as they underlined the incredible turnaround in fortunes for English’s football’s two traditional powerhouses.
They ended last season 28 points behind champions United but are now 14 clear of a side which is virtually the same as the one which claimed a 20th league title last season.
Gerrard’s first penalty after 33 minutes followed a deliberate handball by Rafael that could have earned the defender a second yellow card, while his second shortly after the break was for a clumsy Phil Jones challenge on Joe Allen.
Both were converted with ruthless accuracy by Gerrard, one high and one low to the keeper David de Gea’s left.
Rooney forced Mignolet into a fine save before halftime as United briefly rallied but both he and Robin van Persie cut isolated figures throughout.
United’s day got even worse when Vidic sent Daniel Sturridge sprawling in the area with a lunging tackle and though Gerrard could not beat De Gea again, Suarez’s neat finish after 84 minutes capped a dazzling Liverpool display.