LONDON (AP) - Steven Gerrard scored twice from the penalty spot as Liverpool stretched its Premier League winning streak to nine matches and returned to the top of the table with a 2-1 win at West Ham on Sunday, while Arsenal was dealt another blow by a top-five team in a 3-0 thrashing by Everton.
For once, the free-scoring Reds had to battle hard to claim a hard-fought victory ahead of their much-anticipated clash against Manchester City in a meeting between the two main title contenders.
“It is going to be a magnificent atmosphere at Anfield,” Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said. “The supporters really urged us on today and we want to see if we can get 10 in a row.”
With five games remaining, Liverpool leads Chelsea by two points as it pursues a first league title since 1990. Manchester City is four points off the pace but has two games in hand.
“You could say there was a lack of fight,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. “It’s a massive worry. We have to come back with much more personality and much stronger challenges.”
Arsenal has secured only two points from its last four matches as the Gunners remain in fourth place in the standings, but only one point above Everton, which has a match in hand and a better goal difference.
Gerrard put Liverpool ahead in the 44th minute after West Ham defender James Tomkins handled a flick by Luis Suarez in the area. But West Ham defender Guy Demel equalized on the stroke of halftime when Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet spilled a cross following a challenge from former Liverpool striker Andy Carroll.
The assistant referee initially signaled for a foul on Carroll, but referee Anthony Taylor overruled him despite protests from the Liverpool players.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger criticized his players for their poor display and admitted his side is now facing an uphill task.
“I’m 100 percent determined to fight to make the top four but it will be difficult,” said Wenger. “We have a run-in that is feasible but we must focus on the quality of our displays before dreaming of places.”
While Everton continued its superb attacking form to cut its deficit to the Gunners to one point in the battle for the fourth place, Arsenal stuttered again against a strong team. The Gunners have lost all their away league matches against the current top five, also losing 6-3 at Manchester City, 5-1 at Liverpool and 6-0 at Chelsea.
Everton, which has scored 12 goals in its last four games, claimed a sixth consecutive league win.
“It would mean everything,” Naismith said about his team’s possible top-four finish. “But we have believed from the start of the season and we have shown that in these recent performances.”