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Sun 24 Feb 2008 07:05 AM

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United close gap on Arsenal

Manchester United have cut Arsenal's lead at the top of the Premier League back to three points.

Manchester United have cut Arsenal's lead at the top of the Premier League back to three points after a Saturday filled with pain for the Gunners.

United's 5-1 win at Newcastle ensured the champions took full advantage of the injury-time penalty which allowed ten-man Birmingham to hold Arsenal to an unlikely 2-2 draw at St Andrew's.

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson hailed his side's display as the perfect response to their defeat by Manchester City in their last league outing.

"We were all disappointed with the performance against City and since then the players have done their best to atone for that," said the Scot. "Today stresses our urgency to try and do better and to get up that league."

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger's post-match comments were dominated by his fury over the double leg fracture suffered by his striker Eduardo da Silva following a challenge by Martin Taylor, who received a straight red card.

"The guy should never play again," Wenger said. "People will always use the excuse that the guy is not a dirty player and that he did not mean it. It is like a a guy who kills one time in his life. You still have a dead person. The injury is a very, very bad one."

Wenger's reaction to the incident was probably influenced by his frustration at seeing his side drop two points by conceding an injury-time penalty which James McFadden converted.

Theo Walcott looked to have secured all three points for the Gunners with two goals in the space of five minutes just after the break after McFadden had given the home side a first-half lead with a superb curling free-kick.

But, in the fourth minute of stoppage time, Gunners left-back Gael Clichy was judged -- harshly television replays suggested -- to have tripped Stuart Parnaby in the box and McFadden struck the resulting penalty high into the net.

Having thumped Newcastle 6-0 earlier in the season, United never looked like slipping up at St James' Park.Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored a hat-trick against the Magpies at Old Trafford, was once again the architect of their destruction, setting up Wayne Rooney for United's opener before adding two goals of his own to take his tally for the season to 29.

Abdoulaye Faye pulled one back for Newcastle but that only provoked their opponents into upping the tempo once more with Rooney claiming his second of the evening with a 20-yard drive before substitute Louis Saha completed a rout that leaves Newcastle winless in six matches since Kevin Keegan's return to the club.

Ferguson added: "We freshened up in central midfield by bringing in Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick. But the match was decided by the ability of our front players, they were absolutely fantastic all four of them.

"Rooney and Ronaldo with two goals apiece will take the headlines but the movement of Carlos Tevez and the penetration of Nani contributed to that."

Elsewhere on Saturday, a Fernando Torres hat-trick inspired Liverpool to a 3-2 win over Middlesbrough at Anfield and lifted Rafael Benitez's side back into the top four.

It was Boro's first defeat since New Year's day and a frustrating day was compounded by a late red card for striker Jeremie Aliadiere over a clash with Javier Mascherano.

At the bottom, Fulham were pushed closer to the drop after a 1-0 home defeat by West Ham while Wigan gave their surival chances a huge boost by beating bottom side Derby 2-0.

Nolberto Solano claimed the points for West Ham with an 87th-minute strike at Fulham, who had Denmark defender Leon Andreasen sent off after receiving a second yellow card for his protests to the referee about the goal.

Late goals from Paul Scharner and Antonio Valencia lifted Wigan four points clear of the relegation zone.

Sunderland are in an identical position after succumbing to a 1-0 defeat at Portsmouth, for whom Jermain Defoe slotted in a penalty with just over 20 minutes left.

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