LONDON: Manchester United claimed an eight-point lead at the top of the Premier League after beating relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers 2-0 at Old Trafford before pursuers Manchester City lost 1-0 at Arsenal.

Wayne Rooney led the way for United. He opened the scoring in the first half with his 30th goal of the season from a penalty after QPR captain Shaun Derry had been sent off by referee Lee Mason for bringing down Ashley Young. TV replays, however, showed that Young had been in an offside position when the ball was played up to him.

Derry’s expulsion was QPR’s seventh of term and QPR owner Tony Fernandes insisted afterwards that the club would appeal.

United continued to dominate the game. Rooney was close on two more occasions before veteran midfielder Paul Scholes shot decisively past keeper Paddy Kenny from 25m with 22 minutes remaining. The goal not only secured victory for United but ensured them a superior goal difference – at last – to Manchester City.

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson said: “Before the sending-off we were playing really well. The sending-off put us in a comfort zone and we didn’t make enough of it.”

Asked about the penalty controversy, Ferguson said: “I thought actually that he [Young] as offside and the boy [Derry] just did enough to unbalance him. But, being the last defender, the referee was left with no option.”

Arsenal tightened their grip on third place by defeating Manchester City on a late goal from Mikel Arteta. City finished with 10 men after the perpetually-disruptive Mario Balotelli was sent off in the closing minutes for  the third time for a second yellow card after fouls on Bacary Sagna.

The Gunners went close in only the 15th minute when a goal-bound  header from Robin Van Persie was blocked by Thomas Vermaelen, in front of him. The ball ricocheted away off the crossbar.

City made more impact on the game in the closing minutes of the first half but they badly missed midfielder Yaya Toure who had been substituted through injury after only 14 minutes.

Arsenal regained command in the closing stages of the second half. Van Persie had a goal disallowed for offside before Arteta struck in the 87th minute.

Balotelli was lucky not to have been sent off for a first-half lunge at Alex Song which the Arsenal player was fortunate to survive with his legs intact.

The Italy forward Balotelli has already missed eight games through suspension this season and is now looking at another lengthy ban. If referee Martin Atkinson tells the Football Association that his view of the Song foul was impeded, as television replays appeared to demonstrate, Balotelli could be looking at a retrospective ban for the second time this season.

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