Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, who are beginning to draw clear of the rest of the Premier League contenders, have kept up the furious pace of their title race by picking up hard-fought wins.
But all of the big three needed the help of second-half penalties to maintain their hot pace on Saturday.
Champions City maintained their one-point lead after Raheem Sterling’s 100th league goal secured a 1-0 home win over Wolverhampton in the early kick-off, and chasing duo Liverpool and Chelsea responded with slim victories of their own.
Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard’s return to Anfield nearly dealt a damaging blow to Liverpool’s title hopes but Mohamed Salah’s penalty in the 67th minute secured a 1-0 win for the Reds after goalkeeper Emi Martinez frustrated the hosts for much of the game.
At Stamford Bridge, Jorginho had to convert two spot kicks – the second in the fourth minute of stoppage time – to beat Leeds 3-2. His first penalty in the 58th had put Chelsea 2-1 up but Joe Gelhardt equalised in the 83rd.
It left City on top of the pile still on 38 points, with Liverpool on 37 and Chelsea on 36, with no other team within nine points of them.
West Ham have 27 points and fifth-placed Manchester United also moved on that total after Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 13th goal of the season to earn Ralf Rangnick’s men a 1-0 win at rock-bottom Norwich.
City were perhaps a bit fortunate to come away with a sixth straight league win after Pep Guardiola’s team were awarded a disputed spot kick for handball when Joao Moutinho blocked a cross from Bernardo Silva with his arm outstretched.
Wolves argued the ball hit his armpit, but the decision was upheld after a VAR review.
Sterling calmly converted the penalty straight down the middle.
“It’s a lovely achievement,” the England striker said about joining the 100-goal club. “Some fantastic players have been in there. I’m really honoured to be in it now.”
Gerrard, the long-time Liverpool captain, was back at his boyhood club in a professional capacity for the first time since leaving in 2015 and was given a standing ovation when he came on the field for the game.
“It was always going to be an emotional one. Everyone on the outside can understand that,” Gerrard said.
“I very much appreciate the support and the bond I still have with Liverpool fans, but I think that’s normal because I had so many years here.”
Gerrard’s defensive tactics nearly paid off as Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez frustrated Liverpool until Tyrone Mings pulled down Salah in the 67th minute, and the Egypt forward converted his 15th consecutive successful penalty.
Arsenal bounced back from two straight losses by beating Southampton 3-0 at home with goals from Alexandre Lacazette, Martin Odegaard and Gabriel to climb into fifth place.
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta revealed before the game that he had dropped captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from the match-day squad for disciplinary reasons.
In Norfolk, Ronaldo scored a penalty with quarter of an hour left to give Rangnick a second victory since his arrival and extend the Red Devils’ unbeaten run to six games following Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sacking.
It was harsh on Norwich who had their chances and pushed the visitors hard.