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Fergie urges beaten Gunners to 'batter' Chelsea

Alex Ferguson watched his Manchester United side crush Arsenal 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium yesterday, then threw down a challenge to Arsene Wenger's team to shrug off the defeat and "batter" Chelsea next Sunday.

An own goal by Manuel Almunia and strikes by Wayne Rooney -- his 100th in the Premier League -- and Park Ji Sung set United on course for a comprehensive victory in north London that takes them to within a point of Chelsea at the top of the Premier League.

Ferguson backed his players to hold their nerve in the title chase and the United manager is confident his team can finish strongly to secure a record fourth successive top-flight crown.

"The run-in is always a difficult period, but we've handled it over the years and I'm trusting them to handle it again," Ferguson said. "We need Chelsea to drop points, obviously, but Arsenal are not out of it. I hope Arsenal go to Stamford Bridge next Sunday and batter them.

"It was a great performance by us, no doubt, and I'm really pleased with that. This time of year, we really need to kick on. You saw today the players were really ready for the game, they were sharp and good with their passing, and you could see we created a lot of chances too.

"Counter-attacking has always been part of our game, particularly away from home, and we capitalised on those opportunities. Arsenal play a lot of good football and get to the edge of your box regularly, but if you can win the ball there and counter-attack quickly, you'll have chances against them."

Chelsea can extend their lead by beating Hull City at the KC Stadium in their game in hand tomorrow, before welcoming Arsenal to west London on Sunday.

Wenger was unusually critical of his players' performance yesterday, calling them naive and mentally weak. The Arsenal manager refused to concede defeat in the title race but admitted that a huge improvement is needed against Carlo Ancelotti's men next week.

"It's difficult to accept, but easy to explain," Wenger said. "We were poor defensively, and offensively lacked cohesion. We gave them too much room and were naive. It's a massive blow, but we have to recover from that. Next Sunday we have to deliver a completely different performance."

Rooney was outstanding. His 22nd goal of the season for United also brought up his century of strikes in the Premier League.

"It's obviously something I'm very proud of, it's a great feeling to play in the Premier League and score 100 goals," Rooney said. "Hopefully there's many more to come, but I'm really pleased at the minute."