LONDON, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Champions Chelsea hit the top for the first time this season when a second-half Frank Lampard double earned them a 2-0 victory at local rivals Fulham in the Premier League on Saturday.
England midfielder Lampard, criticised for his poor showing at the World Cup, took his season's tally to four with a 73rd-minute penalty and right-foot finish seven minutes later.
Manchester United failed to join Chelsea at the top when they were held 1-1 at Reading in the evening game, Cristiano Ronaldo rescuing a point for the Reds with a stunning strike.
Liverpool and Arsenal, both recovering from poor starts, began to show the kind of form to challenge Chelsea for the title with emphatic 3-0 home wins.
Dutchman Dirk Kuyt struck his second goal in four days at Anfield as Liverpool brushed Tottenham Hotspur aside in a rampant second half. Chile winger Mark Gonzalez opened the scoring and John Arne Riise's thunderbolt condemned Spurs to their fourth defeat in six league matches.
Arsenal's wait for a first league victory at their new Emirates Stadium ended with victory over Sheffield United, French duo William Gallas and Thierry Henry both on target.
Martin O'Neill's much-improved Aston Villa climbed to fourth place with a 2-0 home victory over Charlton Athletic, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Luke Moore scoring the goals at Villa Park.
Arjen Robben struck the underside of the crossbar for Chelsea in the first half and they had to wait until the 63rd minute for their superiority to be rewarded when Liam Rosenoir handled in the box and Lampard dispatched the penalty.
Lampard then made the game safe after being set up by Didier Drogba's pass.
'We deserved the three points,' Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho told Sky Sports, picking out Lampard for special praise. 'He needs to know he is one of the best players in the world,' added the Portuguese.
Chelsea's fourth win in a row takes them to 15 points from six matches, two ahead of surprise early pace-setters Portsmouth who entertain Bolton Wanderers on Monday.
Manchester United can join Chelsea on 15 points if they win at Reading in Saturday's late kickoff.
Liverpool are up to sixth, five points behind Chelsea, after they maintained their perfect home record this season against a Tottenham side who have managed just two goals in six games.
Jermaine Jenas was guilty of a horrible miss for Spurs in the second half, prodding wide from a metre out, just 30 seconds before Gonzalez put Liverpool in front.
Kuyt, who scored his first goal for the club against Newcastle in midweek and is keeping England striker Peter Crouch out of the team, added the second with Spurs appealing for offside. Riise's deadly left foot completed the rout.
'After the first goal we got better and better and took control,' Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez told the BBC. 'We played with a higher tempo.'
Arsenal are up to eighth, seven points behind Chelsea, after breaking through a resolute Sheffield United side in the second half at the Emirates.
The Gunners breathed a sigh of relief after 65 minutes when defender Gallas, signed from Chelsea last month, rifled a shot into the net after a clever build-up.
Phil Jagielka's own goal four minutes later made the points safe before a rare Henry header added some gloss.
Elsewhere, Watford moved off the bottom with 1-1 draw at Wigan Athletic and Manchester City managed a morale-boosting 2-0 home victory against West Ham United with Georgios Samaras scoring both goals.
Blackburn Rovers' improvment continued with a 1-0 victory at Middlesbrough.