Six-star United back on top as Gunners stumble
United took advantage of that slip-up with a ruthless 6-0 demolition of managerless Newcastle at Old Trafford.
Cristiano Ronaldo's first hat-trick for Manchester United sent the champions back to the top of the Premier League in intimidating fashion after Arsenal were held to a surprise draw by struggling Birmingham.
United took advantage of that slip-up with a ruthless 6-0 demolition of managerless Newcastle at Old Trafford. Their biggest league win in eight years lifted Sir Alex Ferguson's side above their biggest rivals on goal difference.
Chelsea also exploited Arsenal's stumble, by beating Tottenham 2-0, but Liverpool's hopes of getting back into the title battle appear all but over after a 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough left them 12 points adrift of the leaders.
Newcastle managed to keep the game at Old Trafford goalless up to half-time.
But United were simply irresistible after the break as they chalked up their biggest win since last season's 7-1 win over Roma in the Champions League, a Carlos Tevez double and a rare goal from Rio Ferdinand complementing Ronaldo's treble.
Ferguson admitted that he had to give a tough, half-time team-talk to force United to increase the tempo.
"I thought there were too many individuals in the first half trying to walk the ball into the net," he said.
"I stressed (at half-time) that passing was the key element. Once we increased the tempo of the passing and movement they were a fantastic team in the second half.
"You always want a quick start to the second half and the quick goals settled everyone and after that we played some great football."
Arsenal meanwhile were distinctly lacklustre after having taken the lead against Birmingham through Emmanuel Adebayor's first-half penalty.
Birmingham were rewarded for a battling display when Scotland striker Garry O'Connor headed an equaliser three minutes after the break.
The setback prompted Gunners boss Arsene Wenger to accuse his players of complacency.
"We've dropped two points we shouldn't have," the Frenchman complained. "I feel we were caught by the idea it would be easy and lost our focus."
Chelsea left their new 15-million-pound striker Nicolas Anelka on the bench for almost an hour but were still too good for Tottenham at Stamford Bridge.
Juliano Belletti fired Avram Grant's side ahead after 19 minutes and the outstanding Shaun Wright-Phillips ended any doubt over the outcome ten minutes from time.
Anelka, signed earlier this week from Bolton, almost marked his debut with a goal, his shot on the turn in the closing minutes coming back off the under-side of the bar.
Joleon Lescott made up for the own goal he scored in his club's League Cup semi-final defeat at Chelsea in midweek by scoring the only goal in Everton's win over Manchester City.
It was a defeat which saw City slip from fourth to seventh in the table.
Liverpool moved up to fourth with their point at Middlesbrough but that will be scant consolation for under-pressure boss Rafael Benitez after his side missed an opportunity to close the gap on Arsenal.
Boro had taken the lead midway through the first half, George Boateng firing home from close range after a knockdown from Turkey forward Tuncay Sanli.
A superb strike from Fernando Torres - his 17th goal of the season - got Liverpool back on level terms but, despite intense late pressure, they were unable to conjure up a winner.
Aston Villa maintained their push for a place in Europe next season with a comfortable 3-1 win over Reading which lifted Martin O'Neill's side to sixth place.
A John Carew double either side of a Martin Laursen strike secured the points with James Harper scoring a consolation goal for Reading in stoppage time.
At the bottom, Antoine Sibierski's 82nd-minute strike was enough to earn Wigan a valuable 1-0 win over ten-man Derby which lifts Steve Bruce's side three points clear of the drop zone.
Derby played most of the second half a man down after defender Claude Davis was sent off for a second bookable offence.
Second-from-bottom Fulham's woes deepened as they allowed West Ham to come from behind to claim a 2-1 win at Upton Park. A Dean Ashton header cancelled out Simon Davies's early strike and Anton Ferdinand struck the winner with 20 minutes left.