Liverpool took a giant step towards their first title in 24 years with a 3-2 win at a plucky Norwich City on Sunday, opening up a five-point lead over second-placed Chelsea with three matches remaining.
Arsenal kept themselves in the hunt for a place in next season’s Champions League with a 3-0 win at Hull City in a dress-rehearsal for next month’s FA Cup final.
Two goals to Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez’s 30th league strike of the season helped Liverpool to their 11th consecutive Premier League victory and ensured them a top four finish and a place in Europe’s elite club competition next season.
They moved to 80 points, five ahead of Chelsea who suffered a shock 2-1 defeat by bottom-placed Sunderland on Saturday, while third-placed Manchester City, on 71 points and with two matches in hand, play West Bromwich Albion on Monday.
Arsenal, for whom Lukas Podolski scored a double after Aaron Ramsey’s opener, moved to 70 points, four clear of fifth-placed Everton who play Manchester United in Sunday’s late kickoff.
Liverpool have not finished top since 1990, two years before the Premier League began, and they can put themselves on the brink of ending that drought when they meet Chelsea at Anfield next Sunday.
Norwich remain mired in the relegation battle in 17th place, two points above Cardiff City and Fulham and three ahead of Sunderland, while Hull are 14th, six points above the drop zone.
Liverpool’s Suarez, who now has 12 league goals in five matches against Norwich, refused to get carried away with their position.
“In football you never know what can happen,” the Uruguayan told Sky Sports.
“We keep calm and focus on next game. Of course we happy, at the start of the season our target was for the top four.”
Liverpool made a typically fast start at Carrow Road, with Sterling putting the Reds ahead after four minutes when he received the ball from Suarez, shifted right and unleashed a shot from outside the box that grazed Michael Turner, giving John Ruddy no chance.
Gary Hooper headed over from close range, but with Liverpool’s constant movement creating plenty of openings it was little surprise when they doubled their advantage with 11 minutes gone.
Jon Flanagan released Sterling down the left, with the 19-year-old sending in a low cross that evaded the defence, allowing Suarez to open his body and place the ball inside the far post, becoming the first Liverpool player since Ian Rush in 1986-87 to score 30 league goals in a season.
He is now just two shy of equalling the Premier League 38-game season record held by Alan Shearer and Cristiano Ronaldo.
To their credit Norwich, who have now lost four straight matches, did not buckle, with Hooper being denied by Joe Allen and Nathan Redmond stinging the palms of Simon Mignolet.
The hosts continued to press after the break, with Hooper finding the back of the net early in the second half when Mignolet failed to deal with a high cross under pressure from Bradley Johnson, the ball falling to the former Celtic striker in front of an open goal for his first goal since late December.
Sterling restored Liverpool’s two-goal buffer, his mazy run ending with a shot that went over Ruddy via Johnson, but Liverpool faced a nervous last 13 minutes when Flanagan was beaten by Robert Snodgrass to a cross to trim the lead once again.
Following a sluggish start, not helped by a delay caused by strong winds blowing advertising hoardings on to the pitch, Arsenal began to impose themselves.
They took the lead after a neat passing move involving Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla allowed Ramsey to steer the ball home after 30 minutes, his first goal since November having missed three months through injury.
After Hull’s Jake Livermore drove the ball into the post from 25 yards, Podolski doubled Arsenal’s lead on 45 minutes, volleying in after Ramsey’s lovely chested-layoff from Olivier Giroud’s cross, despite legitimate complaints that Mikel Arteta had fouled Nikica Jelavic in the lead up.
It was Podolski’s fourth goal in five league matches, coming after a midweek double at West Ham United, and he added a fifth early in the second half, following up after Steve Harper had blocked Ramsey’s initial effort.
It ensured Arsenal kept their hopes of another top-four finish in their own hands, and handed them a boost ahead of the cup final, an opportunity to end a nine-year wait for a trophy.
“We have beaten Hull twice this season, but it is a Cup final and you cannot take anything for granted, but we will go into that game confident in our ability,” Ramsey said.
“We will go into that game with confidence and if we do well at the end of this season it could be our most successful for many years.”