Aaron Ramsey scored twice against his former club as Arsenal beat Cardiff City 3-0 on Saturday to move seven points clear in the Premier League.
Ramsey broke the deadlock with a fine first-half header and after substitute Mathieu Flamini added a late second, the Welshman completed victory in stoppage time to take his tally of league goals this season to eight.
The win elevated Arsene Wenger’s side seven points above nearest rivals Liverpool and Chelsea, both of whom play on Sunday, as well as Everton, who climbed to fourth place by beating Stoke City.
“It shows you how much Aaron Ramsey has improved,” said Arsenal manager Wenger.
“We came here two or three years ago and he had a nightmare here in a cup game, which shows you how much improved he is as a player.
“When you play first (before your rivals) you can only do your job and see what happens after. But if you do your job well, you can relax.”
Barcelona loanee Gerard Deulofeu produced a dazzling individual display as Everton crushed Stoke 4-0 to move level on points with Liverpool and Chelsea.
The 19-year-old Spanish forward opened the scoring on the stroke of half-time, exchanging passes with Steven Pienaar and then Gareth Barry before slamming a shot past Asmir Begovic at his near post.
Seamus Coleman added a second early in the first half from Deulofeu’s left-wing cross, before Bryan Oviedo – a replacement for the injured Leighton Baines – made it 3-0 with a crisp 25-yard drive.
On-loan Chelsea forward Romelu Lukaku sealed victory with a 79th-minute tap-in from an Ovideo cross.
On Deulofeu, Everton manager Roberto Martinez said: “It was the most satisfying individual performance that we had, because he had to wait for so long to get his chance.”
Newcastle ended the day a point behind Everton in fifth place after Moussa Sissoko scored a spectacular 25-yard winner in a 2-1 victory at home to West Bromwich Albion.
The France midfielder’s 57th-minute thunderbolt, after visiting captain Chris Brunt had cancelled out Yoan Gouffran’s headed opener, gave Alan Pardew’s side their fourth consecutive league victory.
Elsewhere, Tony Pulis’s first game as Crystal Palace manager ended in a 1-0 defeat at Norwich City that saw the London club sink to the foot of the table.
Gary Hooper scored the only goal at Carrow Road in the 30th minute, coolly slotting home after Johan Elmander’s low centre was steered back across goal by Wes Hoolahan.
“I’ve only had a week with the lads and they have bought into what we’re trying to do,” said Pulis.
“We will try and make one or two changes if we can in the (transfer) window.”
Sunderland saw Emanuele Giaccherini miss a sitter and Fabio Borini hit the bar in a 0-0 draw at Aston Villa, but the point was sufficient to take Gustavo Poyet’s side off the bottom at Palace’s expense.
Third-bottom Fulham are now three points adrift of safety, after second-half goals from Mohamed Diame, Carlton Cole and Joe Cole saw them slump to a fifth straight loss in a 3-0 defeat at London rivals West Ham.