Sports

Arsenal hammers West Ham 6-0 and Man United ignites Champions League hopes with 2-1 win at Villa

A record win for Arsenal. An absolutely critical one for Manchester United.

After Arsenal hammered West Ham 6-0 Sunday for its biggest ever Premier League away victory, United beat Aston Villa 2-1 in a huge result in the race for Champions League qualification.

Arsenal might be in its best form so far this season. Last weekend, Mikel Arteta's team was handing league leader Liverpool only its second loss to tighten up the title race and here it was running amok inside the Olympic Stadium, which rapidly emptied after West Ham fell 4-0 behind just before halftime.

Bukayo Saka scored twice and Declan Rice — a former West Ham favorite — added the sixth goal almost apologetically.

Arsenal joined Manchester City just two points behind Liverpool. All three of the big title contenders won this weekend.

United's aspirations are simply to finish in the top four — or five — to get back into the Champions League and that would have been a long shot had the visitors lost at Villa Park.

Instead, there's only five points — rather than 11 — between United in sixth and Villa in fifth after Scott McTominay headed in an 86th-minute winner to earn his team a third straight league victory. Rasmus Hojlund opened the scoring for United and has now netted in five straight league matches.

RICE'S RETURN

Disgruntled West Ham's fans streamed out of their ground in their hundreds prior to the halftime whistle, well before their former star player condemned the team to its joint-heaviest loss of all time.

It just had to be Rice running onto the ball and curling a long-range strike into the top corner to put the seal on an almost embarrassingly easy win for Arsenal.

Rice used to be West Ham's best player, with his relentless energy, lung-busting runs and covering tackles. Now here he was, playing a big part in a clinic by Arsenal, with the home supporters' booing of his every touch maybe spurring him on.

Rice's set-piece deliveries set up first-half goals for William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes, with Saka and Leandro Trossard also scoring before the break. After Saka's second, Rice scored and didn’t even celebrate, holding up both of his hands apologetically instead. He was even applauded by some home supporters when he was substituted moments later.

Signed in July for 105 million pounds (then $138 million), it is looking like money well spent by Arsenal.

“I’m really happy with him," Arteta said of Rice. “I know that it was an emotional day for him because he loves West Ham so much. But he had to focus on the task and what he had to deliver — set-pieces were one of those.”

SAKA'S REDEMPTION

Saka enjoyed this trip to the Olympic Stadium a lot more than his last one.

Last season, the England winger missed a penalty when Arsenal was leading 2-1 and his team wound up drawing 2-2 amid a late-campaign implosion that helped fast-finishing Manchester City retain the league title.

Saka was the subject of racist abuse after that spot-kick failure, too.

So it was perhaps fitting that he won — and converted — the penalty that put Arsenal 2-0 up, reaching 50 goals for Arsenal in the process, before weaving his way into the area to make it 5-0. He wore a broad smile as he celebrated.

“We were 4-0 up in the first half and we could have scored more," Saka said. "We smelled blood today and went for the kill.”

VILLA STRUGGLING

Villa's once-impregnable home record underpinned the team's improbably strong start to the season. It wasn't long ago that Villa was beating City and Arsenal in the space of 72 hours to set a club record of 15 straight home wins in the league and sit just two points behind first-place Liverpool.

Now Villa has lost three home games in a row — to Newcastle, Chelsea and now Man United — and is looking over its shoulder.

The hosts created enough chances to win but lacked the ruthlessness displayed by United,

“We are not where we want to be in the league," United defender Harry Maguire said. "It’s been a tough season so we knew we needed to come here and get the three points.

"We are still not where we want to be and we need to step up. We have got ourselves in a position where we can challenge to go and get in the top four. It is important we stick together and take this club back to where it should be.”

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

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