Declan Rice blossoming for Arsenal in attacking role after goal and assist vs Bournemouth – Premier League hits and misses

Plus: Why Brentford and Fulham must both improve in final third next season; Callum Hudson-Odoi’s brilliance may save Nottingham Forest’s season; Blunt Blades as Sheffield United claim unwanted record; Luton head for the drop despite Everton draw

Rice blossoming as an attacker for Arsenal

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal’s win against Bournemouth in the Premier League

Declan Rice is best known for his defensive qualities but the 25-year-old’s performances this season might require a reassessment. He has become a lethal attacker under Mikel Arteta.

He provided the assist for Leandro Trossard’s crucial second goal in Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Bournemouth on Saturday, flicking the ball to him instinctively with the outside of his boot, then added the third himself with a cool finish on the angle in stoppage time.

  • Arsenal 3-0 Bournemouth – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats
  • Premier League table | Watch free highlights

Rice now has seven goals and eight assists in the Premier League this season, the fourth-highest combined total of any Arsenal player and more than twice as many as he has ever previously managed. “To do that in this league is something else,” said Arteta afterwards.

His goal involvements only told part of the story on Saturday. Rice caught the eye on numerous occasions, his drive in and out of possession pushing Arsenal upfield at times and helping to stem the tide at others. “Declan Rice, we got him half price,” was the chant from the home fans at the final whistle.

Thomas Partey’s introduction at the base of midfield has helped, giving the £105m signing the freedom to bomb forward from the No 8 position. But Rice’s increased attacking threat has been apparent all season. This was just the latest example.
Nick Wright

‘Animal’ Haaland takes out frustrations on Wolves

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Highlights from the Premier League as Manchester City faced Wolves at the Etihad Stadium.

Erling Haaland is supposed to be having an off season. His four goals against Wolves, taking him to 25 in the Premier League, reminded us of just how lethal he can be. Cole Palmer, his closest competition for the Golden Boot, is five adrift.

Criticism about Haaland’s all-round game had started to grow after some frustrating performances in big games this season. Haaland took out those frustrations on Wolves on Saturday, delivering the type of ruthless performance that became the norm last season.

  • Man City 5-1 Wolves – Match report & highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

Living up to a record haul in his maiden Premier League season was never going to be easy. Injuries have led to a disjointed campaign for the 23-year-old, but he’s still managed to keep up an impressive scoring rate. Haaland’s a victim of his own success.

Haaland's haul in stats

  • Erling Haaland scored his sixth Premier League hat-trick for Manchester City, with only seven players netting more in the competition’s history.
  • Haaland scored four goals in a Premier League match for the first time. His fourth goal came in the 54th minute today, the second-earliest four goal haul by a player in the competition’s history, after Gabriel Jesus in April 2022 (53rd minute against Watford).
  • Haaland became the third player to score multiple first-half hat-tricks in Premier League history (also v Nottingham Forest last season), along with Andrew Cole and Michael Owen (2 each).
  • Haaland has scored 13 of his 14 Premier League penalties, failing only against Sheffield United in August this season.

He seems to have benefitted from the time off taken to recover from a muscle problem. Since returning, Haaland has scored five goals in just over 100 minutes. His response to being subbed was one of a player back to their best, chomping at the bit to stay on.

Image: Erling Haaland shows his frustration after being substituted

Image: Erling Haaland speaks with Pep Guardiola after being substituted

“He was furious,” said Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp. “Sometimes we talk about the finesse and little touches that he doesn’t do so well but he’s an animal in front of goal. This guy is built differently. He is a phenomenon.”

Perhaps the scariest takeaway from the win over Wolves is the confirmation that Haaland’s had a sub-par season by his standards. Yet he’s still head and shoulders above the rest of the goalscorers. Where would he and City be if he’d been at his best again?

Haaland propelled City to the treble last season with 52 goals in all competitions. That’s what he’s capable of. Saturday was a reminder of that.
Zinny Boswell

Newcastle narrative changing with strong season end

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Newcastle’s win against Burnley in the Premier League

It wasn’t too long ago Eddie Howe was fielding questions about his Newcastle players being on the beach.

But four wins from five, and 27 points from 14 games following a four-game losing streak either side of New Year, have changed the narrative around St James’ Park.

Howe has never looked under any sustained pressure but having reached the Champions League 12 months ago, the prospect of missing out on European football altogether would have been a tough pill to swallow this time around.

  • Burnley 1-4 Newcastle – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

Of course, that is still a very real possibility. But the Magpies are the form team of those chasing those final two European spots, are now the top scorers outside of Man City and Arsenal and have one of their rivals for those positions, Man Utd, still to come in their final three games.

It could easily have been a gloomy end to the campaign for Newcastle, who have suffered badly with injuries during the season which has tested a squad with a talented and expensive first XI, but limited options in reserve.

If anything, Saturday’s win at Burnley was a reminder of the depth that needs adding to the squad in the summer. With Alexander Isak, Callum Wilson and Anthony Gordon all on the pitch and firing – the first time all three have started a game this season – they looked a constant threat and as dangerous in transition as any Premier League side.

It’s when their top talent are not available, or are overworked, that things begin to tail off quickly, and that is what must be addressed before the start of next season.
Ron Walker

Final third improvement next season the focus for Brentford and Fulham

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Brentford’s draw with Fulham in the Premier League

Heading to the Gtech Community Stadium in the spring sunshine, there was hope two teams with nothing much to play for beyond local bragging rights would cut loose and serve up an entertaining, goal-filled contest. It wasn’t to be.

Bryan Mbeumo’s deflected shot hit the bar in the first half and sub Raul Jimenez spurned a good opening late on but these two teams – despite bringing intensity to this derby – both proved to be badly lacking in the final third.

  • Brentford 0-0 Fulham – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

The visitors repeatedly failed to make good positions count, with crosses drifting away from Fulham players and some wayward passing from the disappointing Willian not helping. Birthday boy Rodrigo Muniz was not at his best, Andreas Pereira was off target and Fulham have now drawn a blank 12 times this term – only Sheffield United have done so more.

As for Brentford, there was encouraging link-up play between Mbeumo and Ivan Toney but the latter has now gone 10 games without a goal, while Keane Lewis-Potter was a nuisance for Fulham but nothing more.

The real work for these sides is done. Brentford are safe and Fulham are settled in mid-table. But the area to work on in the summer is clear…
Peter Smith

Hudson-Odoi brilliance ignites Forest fire

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Nottingham Forest’s win against Sheffield United in the Premier League

Luton need at least four points to drag themselves above Nottingham Forest in the final two games. To put that in perspective, it is the same number of points they have taken from their last 12 games. That is why the Opta predictor has them at 95 per cent likely to go down.

This was a cathartic afternoon for Nuno Espirito Santo, who saw Ryan Yates’ strike survive a VAR review. So often, when the lines have been drawn or when incidents have been taken to Stockley Park, fortune hasn’t favoured them.

  • Sheff Utd 1-3 Nottingham Forest – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

But the release of emotion from the away end when referee Chris Kavanagh awarded the goal – and again at full time – tells you how this could prove a seminal moment in Forest’s season.

Image: Callum Hudson-Odoi celebrates scoring Forest's third

There were 32 chances in a game that ebbed and flowed. Sheffied United had a superior xG – 2.27 to 1.49 – had more shots and more possession. But there was more conviction from the visitors, and quality.

Callum Hudson-Odoi produced two picture-book goals to help Forest overcome a dreadful start at Bramall Lane and register a first away win since Boxing Day.

That came at Newcastle with the other coming at Stamford Bridge. Their situation at the foot of the table could look even rosier if an appeal against a four-point deduction for breaking financial rules is successful, with news expected next week.

But another victory over Chelsea regardless next weekend will see Nuno’s spirited side over the line.
Ben Grounds

Blunt Blades claim unwanted record

Image: Ben Brereton Diaz has six Premier League goals this term

Sheffield United’s horrible campaign hit a new low as Hudson-Odoi’s second was the 100th goal they have conceded, making them the first Premier League team to rack up a century in a 38-game season, with Swindon doing it in 1993-94 over 42 games.

There is therefore very little once more for Chris Wilder to be encouraged from this latest home defeat, having again been so wasteful with their chances.

The last side to concede more in a 38-game top-flight campaign was Leicester City in 1908-09 (102) – and it is Sheffield United’s porous defence for which they have gained notoriety this term.

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United’s only clean sheet in the league this season came in December’s 1-0 home win over Brentford.

Swindon, who propped up the table in 1993/94, were until now the only team to concede a century of goals in a season since the top flight’s rebranding the year prior to that.

The Blades had already surpassed Derby’s 38-game record of 89 after their 4-2 defeat to Manchester United left them on 92 goals against. A 5-1 hammering by Newcastle confirmed their relegation and took them to 97 before they shipped three at home to Forest.

Their average of 2.78 goals conceded per game is far beyond Swindon’s previous worst of 2.38. And, with two games still to play, away to Everton and at home to Tottenham, the record will surely be broken.
Ben Grounds

Luton’s end game edging ever closer

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League clash between Luton and Everton

Luton Town may well look back on Friday night as the one where safety slipped away.

Rob Edwards still talked a good game post-match. He used words like resilience, fight and spirit. He told reporters that belief of staying up still resonates. But time is running out.

This felt like an opportunity begging to be taken. Sean Dyche’s Everton delivered a fairly rudimentary display, and played like a side whose hard graft had already been done, having secured safety against Brentford last weekend.

  • Luton 1-1 Everton – Match report & highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats
  • Premier League table | Watch free Premier League highlights

Image: Luton were held to an unhelpful 1-1 draw against Everton on Friday Night Football

Dyche admitted as much: “We lost our way… there is that feeling that we’ve done our work,” he said.

The harsh reality is that Luton have only won once in their last 15. Since the start of February, they’ve shipped 46 goals in all competitions, the most of any side in Europe’s big-five leagues, also failing to keep a clean sheet. It’s hard to look beyond the stark facts.

The Hatters remained defiant and chased the game, bombarding the Everton box late on and registered six shots in stoppage time, but it wasn’t enough. The threat of relegation continues to loom large and now, for all Luton’s impressive endeavour and Edwards’ never-say-die attitude, the end game looks near.
Laura Hunter

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