United take a step closer
© AFP

Manchester United maintained the pressure on English Premier League leaders Chelsea and Liverpool on Saturday as Arsenal avoided another embarrassing defeat.

United defender Wes Brown scored a disputed header in the first half at Blackburn Rovers and striker Wayne Rooney scored after the break for a 2-0 win that keeps the champions breathing down the leaders' necks.

Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas rescued Arsenal from the spectre of a second straight league defeat with an injury-time header in a 1-1 draw at Sunderland just minutes after the hosts took the lead and seemed set for a shock victory.

Meanwhile Middlesbrough won 1-0 at Wigan and West Bromwich beat visitors Fulham by the same scoreline.

Brown's 31st-minute goal at Ewood Park came from a Rooney cross from the left, though Nemanja Vidic may have fouled Rovers goalkeeper Jason Brown.

Cristiano Ronaldo set up Rooney's goal in the 64th minute, the England striker finishing with a first time shot.

The result leaves United three points behind the leaders and Alex Ferguson's UEFA Champions League winners will have a game in hand following this weekend's round of matches.

Chelsea host Aston Villa on Sunday, while Liverpool travel to Manchester City.

At the Stadium of Light, Grant Leadbitter scored an 86th-minute goal for Sunderland, two minutes after replacing veteran Dwight Yorke. The 22-year-old midfielder crashed a shot which hit the Gunners' crossbar before bouncing down over the line.

Arsenal lost 2-1 at home to Hull last weekend and seemed set for a second defeat to lesser opposition.

But Fabregas salvaged a draw with an impressive header that left the Gunners on 13 points, one behind the leaders ahead of Sunday's matches.

Arsenal thought they should have taken the lead earlier when Theo Walcott cut the ball back for Robin van Persie to score, but the match officials ruled the ball had gone out of play.

"It is frustrating because Sunderland never came out, they were happy with a 0-0 from the first moment," Gunners boss Arsene Wenger said.

"We had a good attitude a good response but we are frustrated. In the last two championship games, everything went against us. We tried, we lacked a little bit of sharpness, maybe, but overall the attitude was very good."

Of Fabregas's late equaliser, the Frenchman said: "That tells you a lot about the team and about Cesc as a man as well."

Sunderland boss Roy Keane said he was pleased with the Black Cats' performance.

"I thought we were outstanding, the discipline of the team, the way we played," the Irishman said.  "Overall I think a draw was possibly a fair result. They were dangerous today, Arsenal always are, but I think we handled that well."

He said of Leadbitter's goal: "It's always nice for every club to see a local lad coming through and having an influence on the game. He showed what he's capable of doing."

Aliadiere on song
At the JJB Stadium, former Gunners striker Jeremie Aliadiere scored a last-ditch goal of his own, his 89th-minute effort the only goal of the game as visitors Middlesbrough beat Wigan.

The goal ended Middlesbrough's run of four straight defeats and was their first non-defeat on the road this season.

Aliadiere got on the end of a Stuart Downing header and beat goalkeeper Ross Turnbull with a left-footed finish from the centre of the penalty area.

"Our mentality going into the game was different and you could sense a determination about them," Boro boss Gareth Southgate told reporters.

"The irony is we've played much better football in our last two games and taken nothing."

Latics manager Steve Bruce moaned that side had been "well and truly mugged."

"We needed to score and unfortunately we didn't manage to do that, and we've been caught with a horrible sucker punch at the end," he said.

Meanwhile Roman Bednar's 61st-minute goal at the Hawthorns was enough for West Brom to see off visitors Fulham.

It was the Czech international striker's third goal of the season, but the first from open play - the other two having come from the penalty spot.

On Sunday, Newcastle play at Everton in their first match under the caretaker leadership of Joe Kinnear.

Fellow strugglers Tottenham will be hoping to avoid Arsenal's fate when top-flight first-timers Hull visit White Hart Lane. Portsmouth host Stoke and Bolton travel to West Ham.