Newcastle 2-6 Man Utd
Manchester United turned up the Premiership pressure on Arsenal with a ruthless six-goal rout of Newcastle United at St James' Park.
Sir Alex Ferguson's side set the scene perfectly for the championship showdown at Highbury on Wednesday by establishing a three-point advantage over the Gunners at the top of the table.
And to add to Arsenal's anxiety, Manchester United's sensational salvo put a significant dent in their goal difference advantage.
Newcastle's late goal from Shola Ameobi kept Arsenal in front on that score, but it was a minor blot on Manchester United's copybook.
The only other cloud on the horizon was a late injury to captain Roy Keane which forced him to hobble off.
We would have accepted that score before the game!
Man Utd manager
Sir Alex Ferguson
Manchester United even allowed Newcastle the luxury of an early lead through Jermaine Jenas before destroying the Toon Army.
They struck four times before the interval through Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a Scholes double, and Ryan Giggs.
Scholes completed his hat-trick after the break and Ruud van Nistelrooy provided the final flourish from the penalty spot.
It was the perfect response to the Champions League defeat against Real Madrid - and the ideal preparation for the crunch encounter at Arsenal.
Ferguson achieved it all without England captain David Beckham, who suffered a hamstring injury against Real Madrid.
There was little sign of the goalscoring carnage to come when Jenas fired Newcastle in front with a spectacular strike after 20 minutes.
Barthez saved well from Craig Bellamy, but there was no reprieve as the loose ball was lashed into the top corner from 25 yards by Jenas.
It was the signal for a spell of champagne football from Manchester United - illustrated by a devastating spell of three goals in five minutes.
Giggs sent Solskjaer clear to equalise, but it was a double strike by Scholes that wrecked Newcastle's hopes of earning anything from the game, and with it their title hopes.
He capped a slick exchange with Solskjaer by volleying past Shay Given, and then delivered a trademark long-range finish into the top corner after a weaving run from Giggs.
Giggs turned from provider to scorer two minutes before the interval, turning home from close range after O'Shea had struck the bar.
Ferguson removed hamstring injury victim Giggs at half-time - but there was no respite for Newcastle from a merciless Manchester United.
Scholes completed his hat-trick after 51 minutes when substitute Gary Neville, on for O'Shea, provided him with the simplest of finishes.
The only surprise was that Van Nistelrooy had not been on target, but that was remedied from a penalty six minutes later.
The hapless Titus Bramble senselessly upended subsitute Diego Forlan, and Van Nistelrooy completed the formalties in his usual style.
As St James' Park emptied rapidly, Ameobi took advantage of Barthez's miskick to score.
Newcastle: Given, Hughes, Bramble, Woodgate, Bernard,
Solano (Ameobi 66), Dyer, Jenas, Robert (Viana 15), Shearer,
Bellamy, Viana (LuaLua 66).
Subs Not Used: Griffin, Harper.
Man Utd: Barthez, O'Shea (Gary Neville 49), Ferdinand,
Brown (Blanc 65), Silvestre, Solskjaer, Keane, Butt,
Giggs (Forlan 45), van Nistelrooy, Scholes.
Subs Not Used: Phil Neville, Ricardo.
Referee: S Dunn (Avon).