LONDON (AP) ― Arsenal and Manchester City showed no sign of slowing up in the race for the Premier League title by grabbing routine home wins on Saturday to stay 1-2 in the standings.
Spain playmaker Santi Cazorla scored second-half goals in a five-minute span for Arsenal in a 2-0 victory over lowly Fulham that keeps the Gunners in the lead by a point.
“We have played 22 games and have 51 points. If you compare that to any other season you will see that it is one of the best, if not the best ever,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said after his side’s fifth straight league win.
City put on another attacking clinic to breeze past Cardiff 4-2 and pass the 100-goal mark this season in all competitions ― after just 34 matches. Edin Dzeko, Jesus Navas, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero netted for City, which has now scored four or more goals in a game on 12 occasions this campaign.
“It’s not easy to score 103 goals by the middle of the season,” City manager Manuel Pellegrini said. “It reflects how we think this team must play. We are always an attractive team.”
The Chelsea side of last season had been the previous fastest to reach a century of goals in the Premier League era, after 42 games, but Pellegrini’s entertainers have set a high bar.
The defeat dumped Cardiff into last place and ensured a miserable return to Manchester for its coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who spent 11 successful years across the city at United.
Third-place Chelsea will look to stay a point behind City by beating Manchester United at home on Sunday in the standout game of the weekend.
Liverpool lost ground in fourth by drawing 2-2 at home to Aston Villa, which raced into a two-goal lead after 36 minutes thanks to strikes by Andreas Weimann and Christian Benteke.
Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard ― from the penalty spot ― salvaged a draw for Liverpool, which is now eight points behind Arsenal after spending Christmas Day on top of the table.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored a long-range goal worthy of the recently awarded Ballon d’Or to spark Real Madrid’s 5-0 rout at Real Betis, provisionally lifting them level with the co-leaders of the Spanish league on Saturday.
Ronaldo netted one of his signature free kicks in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday to celebrate being named the world player of the year, and he topped that with a 25-meter blast taken on the run in the 10th minute in Seville.
Gareth Bale followed Ronaldo’s rocket with a delicately placed free kick in the 25th for his first goal since Nov. 30, leaving the hosts demoralized and in tatters at the back.
Karim Benzema, Angel Di Maria and Alvaro Morata all scored before the demolition of bottom-side Betis was over.
Barcelona and Atletico Madrid can both regain their advantage over Madrid when they play matches on Sunday.
“Everything went our way,” said Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti. “It was an important opportunity to reach the top of the table. At least we can sleep well tonight.”
Roma eased to a 3-0 win over relegation-threatened Livorno on Saturday to keep up the pressure on Serie A leader Juventus.
The home side got off to the perfect start when Adem Ljajic’s cross was flicked on by a wayward Gervinho backheel for Mattia Destro to tap home in the sixth minute.
Roma doubled its lead in the 36th when Destro chipped the goalkeeper and, although Nahuel Valentini slid in for a goalline clearance, Kevin Strootman lashed home the rebound from close range.
Gervinho had a goal ruled out for offside a minute before halftime, but Roma sealed the result in the 78th when Ljajic cut inside before curling a shot into the near bottom corner for his first goal since September.