United on song, Gunners fight back
© AFP

Manchester United swept Aston Villa aside to move closer to retaining the Premier League title on a day when Arsenal had to produce an extroardinary fightback to prevent their fading title hopes from being extinguished.

The Gunners had to battle back from two goals down with ten men to end a five-match winless run with a last-gasp 3-2 victory at Bolton.

But their efforts did not reduce the six-point gap between them and a United side whose 4-0 demolition of Villa was brilliantly orchestrated by Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portuguese winger started proceedings with his 35th goal of the season, a cheeky backheel from ten yards out, before providing the decisive passes that allowed Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney (twice) to net United's other goals.

Arsenal, in contrast, needed a last-minute own goal by Jlloyd Samuel to end their worst run of form in nine years.

In the day's other matches, Derby were condemned to relegation from the top flight by Birmingham's 3-1 win over Manchester City.

Derby could only draw 2-2 at home with Fulham, who look increasingly likely to join them in the Championship next season.

Arsenal's afternoon got off to bad start when Matt Taylor headed Gretar Steinsson's superb cross past Manuel Almunia.

Midfielder Abou Diaby was then shown a straight red card for a high challenge on Steinsson and Taylor doubled Bolton's lead just before half-time.

But a William Gallas strike and a Robin Van Persie penalty levelled things up after the break and Arsenal's commitment to all-out attack paid off when Samuel deflected the ball into his own net after Cesc Fabregas had sent Alexander Hleb's cross goalwards.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger admitted his side had come within seconds of dropping out of the title race.

"We knew 2-2 was not good enough to stay in the title race," said the Frenchman. "To be two goals down and ten against 11, it was a big mental test and I'm very proud of the team."

For Bolton, the morale-sapping nature of the defeat was compounded by the impact of Birmingham's win, which means they find themselves four points adrift of safety with only six games left to secure their top flight status.

Birmingham, who had gone 2-0 up thanks to a double from Argentinian forward Mauro Zarate, were given cause for concern when Franck Queudrue's foul on Benjani Mwaruwari resulted in both a red card for the defender and a penalty that Brazilian midfielder Elano converted.

But a Gary McSheffrey penalty 13 minutes from time made the points safe for the home side.

Sunderland's chances of beating the drop were given a huge shot in the arm by a 2-1 victory over West Ham at the Stadium of Light.

Andy Reid's injury-time strike settled the contest after Kenwyne Jones had cancelled out Freddie Ljungberg's opener for West Ham and Roy Keane's side now have a seven-point cushion between them and the relegation zone.

Elsewhere, Jermain Defoe took his goal tally for Portsmouth to eight in seven games with a double in the 2-0 win over Wigan, while ten-man Reading held out for a goalless draw with Blackburn after having Czech midfielder Marek Matejovsky sent off for a second yellow card with 20 minutes left.