Arsenal and Manchester City kept up their unrelenting pursuits of the Premier League title by maintaining their winning streaks on Saturday but Liverpool’s challenge faltered after they were held at home by Aston Villa.
Arsenal beat Fulham 2-0 at the Emirates and Manchester City beat Cardiff City 4-2 at the Etihad before Liverpool could only manage a 2-2 draw at Anfield having trailed 2-0.
The results left Arsenal top on 51 points, followed by Manchester City on 50. Chelsea, who are third on 46 points, face seventh-placed champions Manchester United at home on Sunday.
Liverpool are fourth with 43 points while fifth-placed Everton (41) play at West Bromwich Albion on Monday and sixth placed Tottenham Hotspur (40) play at Swansea City on Sunday.
Two goals in five minutes midway through the second half by Spain international midfielder Santi Cazorla set Arsenal up for their fifth successive league victory.
Fulham have never won at Arsenal in 28 meetings dating back 110 years and rarely looked like ending that sorry record.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger told the BBC: “The pressure is there but it is a positive one.
“I believe it is important to keep focused on the way we want to play and our solidarity in the side which is exceptional and that will get us the points.
“Man City are a good team as well so that makes the race even more interesting. There are five or six teams who will fight for the Championship. From our side we just need to be consistent.”
Second-placed City made it seven consecutive league wins as they beat Cardiff City 4-2 – also their 11th successive home win in the league – after Edin Dzeko’s opener took them to 100 goals in all competitions this season.
Cardiff, playing their second league game under new boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, equalised through Craig Noone after 29 minutes before Jesus Navas restored City’s lead four minutes later.
Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero scored late goals in quick succession to make it 4-1 and take City’s home goal tally in the league to 42 before Fraizer Campbell scored a late consolation.
The Welsh side, back in the top flight for the first time in 51 seasons, dropped to the bottom of the table behind Sunderland on goal difference after they hit back to draw 2-2 with Southampton having trailed 2-0.
City boss Manuel Pellegrini told the BBC: “Maybe I am not 100 per cent happy because we conceded the second goal in the last minute. But we scored four and missed five or six clear chances so if we continue to play like we are, we are always going to score more than we concede.
“We are playing fantastic football at the moment.”
After seeing his team slip to the bottom of the standings, Solskjaer said: “We can stay up. No doubt about that. The league got tighter today – from bottom to 10th it is five points.
“For half an hour we did very well today but for two or three minutes they blitzed us.”
Cardiff, Sunderland and West Ham all have 18 points, with Fulham on 19 and Crystal Palace on 20.
Aston Villa, who have won more points away from home this season than at home raced into a 2-0 lead at Anfield with a tap-in from Andreas Weimann after 25 minutes and a header from Christian Benteke 11 minutes later.
Daniel Sturridge nipped in to make it 2-1 just before halftime and Steven Gerrard equalised with a 53rd-minute penalty to give Liverpool their first draw at home this season.
Eighth-placed Newcastle United kept in touch with the leading pack as manager Alan Pardew’s current team beat his old one West Ham 3-1 at Upton Park.
Yohan Cabaye and Loic Remy scored to put Newcastle in command while the Hammers pulled one back when Mike Williamson put through his own goal. Cabaye added a late third.
The one bright spot for the Hammers fans was the first home appearance this season of their England striker Andy Carroll, who came on as a second half substitute for only his second game of the season after a long-standing foot injury.
Crystal Palace moved out of the relegation zone when Jason Puncheon scored after 51 minutes to give Palace manager Tony Pulis a 1-0 win over his former club Stoke City.
Last week Puncheon missed a golden opportunity to score when he skied a shocking penalty high and wide against Tottenham Hotspur, but he pounced to give Palace three important points.
He took advantage of a mistake by Oussama Assaidi’s error to score with a low drive that took his side to 16th, their highest placing for five months.
It was Palace’s fourth win in 10 matches since Pulis became manager at the end of November and he told the BBC: “With 16 games to go, we’ve given ourselves a chance from not having a chance but we can’t get carried away.
“Puncheon is a good player and people miss penalties. People might say ‘not by that much’, but Punch has to get over it and there were no problems.”
Norwich City beat Hull City 1-0 at Carrow Road with an 87th minute winner from Ryan Bennett easing them away from trouble.
Hull’s misery was complete when Tom Huddlestone was sent off in the last minute for a second yellow card.