First-place Chelsea beat Aston Villa 1-0 yesterday on a 30th-minute goal by Damien Duff and kept its five-point lead in the English Premier League. Defending champion Arsenal, in...

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LONDON — First-place Chelsea beat Aston Villa 1-0 yesterday on a 30th-minute goal by Damien Duff and kept its five-point lead in the English Premier League.

Defending champion Arsenal, in second place, defeated Fulham 2-0. Third-place Everton edged Manchester City 2-1, and fourth-place Manchester United beat Bolton 2-0.

Duff cut inside a defender on the right side and scored on goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen to lead Chelsea, which recorded its 12th shutout and won for the 14th time in 19 games. Halfway through the season, Chelsea has 46 points and Arsenal has 41.

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“We are enjoying it at the top,” Chelsea defender John Terry said. “The lads are confident. The team spirit is fantastic.”

Duff scored his sixth league goal in 14 starts this season, converting a pass from Arjen Robben.

English soccer is ignoring the winter break favored by other prominent leagues in Europe, and this was the first of four rounds of matches between yesterday and next Monday.

Thierry Henry gave Arsenal the lead in the 12th minute with a low shot into the far corner for his 20th goal of the season, including nonleague matches. Robert Pires added the insurance goal on a free kick with 19 minutes left.

“What is important for us is to focus on ourselves and our quality and we don’t have to worry about anybody else,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said.

“It is too far away from the end of the season to speculate on a slip by Chelsea.”

Chelsea, which won its only league title in 1955, has lost one Premiership game this season. Arsenal, a champion three times in the past seven years, has been beaten twice.

Everton has 40 points, and is ahead of Manchester United (37), Middlesbrough (32) and Liverpool (31).

Everton extended its unbeaten run to seven matches as Tim Cahill scored in the 22nd minute and Marcus Bent connected in the 63rd minute. Manchester City substitute Christian Negouai was sent off for violent conduct moments after entering the game.

Manchester United’s goals were scored by Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.

In Scotland, first-place Celtic won 2-0 at Hearts, with Stilian Petrov scoring one goal and setting up the other. Celtic has 50 points, with the rival Rangers next at 46.

Klinsmann likes Germany’s path

Juergen Klinsmann doesn’t need to deal with many of the issues faced by fellow national-team managers during the ongoing two-year phase of World Cup qualifying matches. Being manager of host Germany, the only automatic qualifier to the 2006 event, Klinsmann mainly worries about player evaluation to form his final roster.

“I’m generally very content,” Klinsmann told Reuters. “The players have quickly grasped our philosophy regarding the main goal of the 2006 World Cup. For 2005, I hope we continue to go in the right direction.”

Klinsmann replaces former manager Rudi Voeller, who resigned in June.