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.
Even so, they still needed a stroke of luck to open the scoring in the 54th minute.
Xhaka blasted a long-range strike that slammed into the back of United midfielder Ander Herrera, looping high in the air before dropping into the net just out of the reach of goalkeeper David de Gea.
If that was a fortuitous way to take the lead, Arsenal had no need to apologise for their superb second goal three minutes later.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain whipped over a teasing cross and when United defender Chris Smalling misjudged the flight of the ball, former United forward Welbeck was perfectly placed to bury his header past De Gea for just his second league goal this season.
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.
Milner accepted the blame for the damaging draw.
“It’s very frustrating. Obviously the penalty is my fault and the fact we didn’t get three points is definitely my fault. I have to live with that,” Milner said.
“Fraser is a top keeper but you have to take those chances.”
Forster spoke to Milner before the penalty, possibly in a bid to play mind games with his former Newcastle teammate.
But Milner insisted that was no excuse for the miss.
“I’ve been around long enough to make sure that doesn’t worry me. I can’t do any more than hold my hands up,” he said.
Milner added: “The penalty was a big chance and we didn’t take it. We have to win our remaining two games and see if it’s good enough.”
Rather than blame Milner. however, 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.”
Premier League results on Sunday:
Arsenal 2 Manchester United 0
Liverpool 0 Southampton 0
Premier League table after Sunday’s matches (played, won, drawn, lost, goals for, goals against, points):
Chelsea 34 26 3 5 72 29 81
Tottenham 35 23 8 4 71 23 77
Liverpool 36 20 10 6 71 42 70
Man City 35 20 9 6 70 37 69
Man Utd 35 17 14 4 51 27 65
Arsenal 34 19 6 9 66 42 63
Everton 36 16 10 10 60 41 58
West Brom 35 12 9 14 41 45 45
Leicester 35 12 7 16 45 54 43
Southampton 34 11 9 14 39 44 42
Bournemouth 36 11 9 16 52 65 42
West Ham 36 11 9 16 45 59 42
Stoke 36 10 11 15 39 52 41
Burnley 36 11 7 18 37 51 40
Watford 35 11 7 17 37 58 40
Crystal Palace 36 11 5 20 46 61 38
Swansea 36 10 5 21 41 69 35
Hull 36 9 7 20 36 69 34
Middlesbrough 35 5 13 17 26 45 28
Sunderland 35 6 6 23 28 60 24 — relegated
Note: top four qualify for Champions League; teams finishing fifth to seventh qualify for Europa League; bottom three relegated to Championship