| Liverpool’s Vladimir Smicer in a tussle for the ball with Arsenal’s Edu (foreground) at Anfield during their Premier League match on Saturday. (AFP)
London, Oct. 4 (Reuters): Arsenal overcame injury problems and the concession of an early goal to beat Liverpool 2-1 and stay top of the Premier League on Saturday.
A stunning strike by Robert Pires in an early kickoff at Anfield extended Arsenal’s lead in the standings before Manchester United closed the gap back to one point with a comfortable 3-0 home victory over Birmingham City.
Big-spending Chelsea will move level with United on 19 points if they beat Middlesbrough on Sunday in the first of their two games in hand.
Fulham, for whom Luis Boa Morte scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Leicester City, moved up to fourth with 14 points.
Arsenal, without injured captain Patrick Vieira and Fredrik Ljungberg, were outplayed for long periods but showed their best battling qualities to record only their second victory at Anfield in 11 Premier League visits.
Harry Kewell gave Liverpool a deserved 14th-minute lead with a low left-foot shot from the edge of the area before Brazilian Edu’s deflected header put Arsenal level on the half hour.
Arsenal were a different side after the break, gradually assuming control before Pires cut in from the left to plant a curling shot past the diving Dudek.
“They (Liverpool) could have been two or three goals up,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. “We had to show all the qualities we have in our squad.
“In the first half, resilience and hanging on, and in the second half it was about closing people down.”
Arsenal, who have a disciplinary cloud hanging over them following incidents during their recent 0-0 draw at Manchester United, experienced no major problems against Liverpool with only routine yellow cards for Ray Parlour and Ashley Cole.
Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier was left to rue not killing Arsenal off and a leg injury for striker Michael Owen that could rule him out of England’s decisive Euro 2004 qualifier in Turkey next week.
“He’s had an X-Ray which revealed there was no fracture,” Houllier said. “He’s due to have a scan tomorrow so we’ll know then.
“If it’s just a muscle problem then in three or four days he should be alright. If it’s a ligament problem then of course that’s more serious.”
Manchester United put their Champions League defeat in Stuttgart behind them to end 10-man Birmingham’s unbeaten start to the season.
United struggled to break down the Premier League’s most miserly defence until City goalkeeper Maik Taylor was sent off in the 35th minute for bringing down Paul Scholes.
Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy tucked the penalty past replacement keeper Ian Bennett and United added further goals in the second half from Scholes and Ryan Giggs.
“I’m very pleased after a difficult week,” said United manager Alex Ferguson. “It was unfortunate for their goalkeeper because he had to go for the ball. The penalty came at a good time for us because we were struggling to get through them.”
Two under-pressure managers, Peter Reid and Bobby Robson, ended traumatic weeks with smiles on their faces.
Reid’s Leeds United had Seth Johnson’s double to thank for a 2-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers, their first home win of the season.
Alan Shearer’s 250th career league goal gave Newcastle United their first victory of the campaign, 1-0 at home to Southampton.
Wolverhampton Wanderers remained rooted to the foot of the table despite winning their first top-flight game for nearly 20 years, a late goal by Colin Cameron sealing a 1-0 victory over Manchester City.
Tottenham Hotspur’s revival under caretaker manager David Pleat continued as they beat Everton 3-0 at White Hart Lane with goals from Fredrick Kanoute, Gustavo Poyet and Robbie Keane, and Charlton Athletic snatched a 2-1 win at Portsmouth with a last-gasp winner.
Aston Villa play Bolton Wanderers in Sunday’s other match.