Arsenal boss Unai Emery insisted a top-four finish was a realistic target after his side’s 2-1 win at bottom club Huddersfield.
Alex Iwobi and Alexandre Lacazette struck in the first half, and despite Sead Kolasinac’s stoppage-time own goal, Arsenal secured their first away win since November.
“It was very important to win, to be closer to the top four and our target is this,” Emery said.
“After 26 games there is a one-point difference between us and Manchester United.
“If we ask is it difficult for us, I think it’s difficult, but we can. After 26 games we are on our way and our motivation is very great and we’ve brought our target closer.
“I am very happy. We were working well. Every player was working and helping each other and today I’m very proud with our work.”
Arsenal are two places below United and level on points with fifth-placed Chelsea, who play at Manchester City on Sunday.
But a clean sheet on the road eluded Arsenal and they remain the only Premier League side not to have kept one this season.
Kolasinac’s late own goal was accredited to the Bosnian defender after Adama Diakhaby’s shot appeared to hit him before crossing the goalline.
“A clean sheet is important, but our main worry is to win,” Emery said. “The main thing is to score one more goal than them and after that it is to keep a clean sheet.
“Every player worked very well and the last action, unfortunately for us, they scored and also, maybe they deserved it.”
Huddersfield slipped to their 12th defeat in 13 league matches and remain 13 points adrift of safety.
But the Terriers turned in another spirited display. The killer final ball in and around the penalty area continued to elude them, but they created chances and with a little bit more luck could have rescued a point.
“I totally agree,” said Huddersfield manager Jan Siewert. “We gave everything today. The way we played makes me so proud.
“Each player in the squad showed everyone that we wanted this win. At half-time we were 2-0 down and said we wanted to win the second half for the people who came here.
“To be honest I will fight until the end with my lads to stay in the Premier League and this makes me proud of the supporters.”
Town’s goal – even if off Kolasinac – was their first in six matches, highlighting their major problem this season.
“The most important thing for me is to continue what we are doing,” Siewert added. “We played against a very good team today and created so many chances.
“For me as a manager, the fight comes first and then the luck comes back. We are improving in our work and we will get our results.”
Manchester City are on a run of five wins in their last six Premier League outings and welcome Chelsea to the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
Pep Guardiola’s side has been on something of a resurgence lately in their bid to retain their crown while Chelsea’s form has been patchy at best but do find themselves coming off a 5-0 victory over Huddersfield.
Here, we look at the talking points ahead of the encounter.
THE PREDICTABLE VS THE UNKNOWN
There is a lot of respect between Maurizio Sarri and Pep Guardiola and it’s easy to see why. A mutual admiration of each other’s philosophy is only natural given the similarities they share, particularly in terms of dominating possession, employing a high defensive line and playing out from the back.
“I met him last season when we played against Napoli and I was so curious because I enjoyed, a lot, watching his Napoli,” Guardiola said on Saturday.
However, while Sarri is an idealist, obsessed with perfecting a specific system, Guardiola is nothing if not innovative. The Catalan has a set of principles that governs the way his teams operate but there’s always plenty of leeway for tinkering as per the personnel at his disposal or indeed the opposition he faces.
Any Fantasy Premier League manager picking his team or football journalist previewing a City game (hey there!) will attest to the difficulty of guessing Guardiola’s selection or formation. Even Unai Emery would’ve been caught off guard by his decision to play Fernandinho as a centre-back during a 3-1 win over Arsenal with the Brazilian often stepping up into midfield in possession.
In contrast, Sarri never – ever – deviates from his tried and tested 4-3-3 formation. The only question marks have been over his team selection as he tried to choose between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front, sometimes opting for neither and playing Eden Hazard there instead.
Guardiola – like the rest of us – know who Chelsea will field and how they will play, it’s only stopping them that needs working out. How City set up on the other hand, no one can really say with authority.
AGUERO THE DANGER MAN
With five goals and an assist in his last six league starts, Sergio Aguero has been pivotal to City’s recent form. His goals, including a hat-trick against Arsenal has seen their title defence gather momentum.
The Argentine has always been a talisman or the Citizens and Guardiola hopes he can continue on this rich vein of form as Chelsea visit the Etihad Stadium.
“The big players need to appear in the key games, the big moments, and he did it. Hopefully he can continue doing it. In the big games we need important players,” Guardiola said.
Aguero is indeed the man for the big occasion, regularly plundering goals against top six opposition. Chelsea of course know all about his exploits. The striker has scored 12 goals and assisted three in 16 appearances against them.
Meanwhile, another City goalscoring milestone beckons for Aguero. With 157 league goals, he is one short of equalling the club record held jointly by Tommy Johnson and Eric Brook.
On current form, City must be favourites at home to Chelsea. After stumbling during the festive period, the Manchester outfit have recovered and have the bit between their teeth now.
“At the moment, in my opinion, Manchester City are the best team in Europe. They are an example for every club,” Sarri said ahead of the encounter.
However, Guardiola will be haunted by his past meetings with the west London club. He has suffered more league defeats (three) against Chelsea than any other team in his career as a head coach.
For all of his side’s domination of possession in the first half at the Bridge earlier this season, Guardiola still came away from the game scratching his head as he was left to mull over a 2-0 defeat.
All signs point to a City win but football is rarely that straightforward and when it comes to Chelsea, Guardiola knows that better than anyone.
Sadio Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Mohamed Salah got the goals as Jurgen Klopp’s side produced a classy display to cruise to victory.
Here’s a look at how the players rated.
Alisson 7 – Had little to deal with in the Liverpool goal, just what the doctor ordered after a few shaky displays. When he was called into action, the Brazilian didn’t put a foot wrong.
James Milner 8 – If the Reds do win the title, they will owe a lot to Milner’s versatility. An assist from right-back as his cross was perfectly delivered for Sadio Mane to score.
Joel Matip 8 – Another solid display from Liverpool’s third-choice centre-back. Matip’s form has given Klopp a welcome headache as he’ll have a decision to make when Joe Gomez makes his return from injury.
Virgil van Dijk 8 – Anchored Liverpool’s first clean sheet in four games and just their second in 2019, producing another imperious performance at the back.
Andrew Robertson 8 – Another productive display from the Reds’ star full-back, who looked stunning going forward as well as being equally consistent in defence.
Georginio Wijnaldum 8 – A beautiful goal to double the advantage, nonchalantly chipping over Artur Boruc to put his side in command. Part of an all-action performance from the midfielder.
Fabinho 8 – The Brazilian has become the glue of this side and he was at it again on Saturday, helping Liverpool keep their foot on the gas by controlling the game in midfield.
Naby Keita 7 – Signs of improvement from the midfielder, who was the architect of the move for the third goal with a nicely clipped ball for Roberto Firmino.
Mohamed Salah 8 – Scored his fourth goal in five games, rounding off a flowing move with a wonderful first-time finish to stretch his lead atop the league’s scoring charts.
Roberto Firmino 8 – Produced a lovely back-heeled assist for Salah’s goal, another reminder of what he brings to this Liverpool team. Should have scored late on, producing a tame shot at the end of a break.
Sadio Mane 8 – Settled any nerves Liverpool may have been feeling with a good header for the opening goal – scoring for the fourth straight game – and was typically lively throughout.
Virgil van Dijk has made more tackles without being dribbled past in the Premier League this season than any other player.— Coral (@Coral) February 9, 2019
23 tackles and not one person made it out the other side. #LFC pic.twitter.com/QxuNncrMWn
Trent Alexander-Arnold 6 – A welcome return for Liverpool, as the young right-back had missed the Reds’ last three games. Missed a glorious chance to score right at the end.
Divock Origi N/A – A late entrant to proceedings, coming on for Mane in the 87th minute, but had no chance to affect the game.
Daniel Sturridge N/A – Came on in the 90th minute for Firmino, with little time to make an impact.