LONDON: Arsenal survived an almighty scare at the hands of Everton's teenage rebel Wayne Rooney before returning to the top of the Premiership with a 2-1 win over Everton here yesterday.
In an earlier match, Liverpool bounced back from their UEFA Cup exit and sent Leeds to the brink of the relegation quagmire with an impressive 3-1 win at Anfield.
At Highbury, Rooney, whose 25-yard drive had secured victory for Everton when the two sides met earlier in the season, produced another stunning solo effort to cancel out Pascal Cygan's early header ten minutes after the break.
But with Everton threatening to emulate Blackburn with their second win over the champions this season, Patrick Vieira smashed home a winner from close range after Dennis Bergkamp had won his battle with David Unsworth for control of a long-ball into the box.
Everton's players were convinced Unsworth had been fouled by Bergkamp but their protests went unheeded and Arsenal held out to restore their two-point lead over Manchester United.
After successive defeats by Blackburn and Valencia, the latter ending their Champions League campaign, Arsenal were badly in need of a confidence boost.
And it arrived quickly from the unlikely source of Cygan.
The French defender's limitations have been one source of Arsenal's recent problems but there were no complaints from the Highbury faithful about the way he met Thierry Henry's 8th minute corner to put the Gunners ahead.
Everton might have been overrun in the opening stages but they gradually came back into the match and their revival was capped by a superb Rooney goal.
Cutting in from wide on the right, the 17-year-old carried the ball into the penalty box before firing through Cygan's legs and past Stuart Taylor.
At that stage Everton looked the more likely winners but it was Arsenal who showed their reluctance to give up their title without a fight by grinding out a winner.
Peter Reid's reign as Leeds caretaker manager got off to the worst possible start as Michael Owen and Danny Murphy put Liverpool two goals up inside the first 20 minutes.
Mark Viduka's close range effort gave Leeds hope a minute before half-time but Steven Gerrard's 73rd minute strike ensured the home side were able to play out the game on cruise control.
The three points move Liverpool back to within two points of Chelsea, the side currently occupying the fourth and final Champions League qualifying spot.
Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier, whose side showed no ill-effects from Thursday's UEFA Cup quarter-final exit to Celtic, told Sky Sports: "We knew what we had to do and we knew we had to be resilient at times.
"I thought we had some brilliant moments, fantastic movements.
“On the back of the effort put in against Celtic, I'm pleased with the professional attitude and the response of the players."
With an eye on the race to a top four finish, though, Houllier conceded: "It was vital to win this game." – Agencies