William Saliba a ‘giant’ as Arsenal shut out Man City, Liverpool come back to win again – Premier League hits and misses

Plus: Kevin De Bruyne below his best levels; Liverpool keep on coming back; Lewis Dunk recovers from his England errors; and Saturday’s top talking points from Man Utd’s vulnerability to David Moyes’ mistake at Newcastle

Saliba a ‘giant’ as Arsenal show maturity

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Watch highlights from the Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal

“If you don’t win, you’re never happy,” Mikel Arteta told Sky Sports after Arsenal’s goalless draw with Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. But the beaming grin on his face told a different story.

The manager could not hide his delight after Arsenal limited their title rivals to a solitary shot on target, becoming the first side in three years to keep a clean sheet at the Etihad Stadium thanks to a defensive display described as “unique” by Sky Sports’ Gary Neville.

“I think we have made a big step,” Arteta added, referencing Arsenal’s 4-1 loss on their last visit. “We experienced what happened here last year and we have come across in a different way.”

  • Man City 0-0 Arsenal – Match report and highlights
  • Gary Neville: Arsenal answered big questions
  • Live Premier League table | Fixtures | Results

William Saliba, the player whose injury absence proved so costly during last year’s run-in, was key to it, shackling Erling Haaland brilliantly with help from his centre-back partner Gabriel Magalhaes. In three games against those two this season, including the Community Shield, the Norwegian has not even had a shot on target.

“A giant on the pitch,” was how Neville described Saliba as he named him player of the match. It was apt. City dominated possession but Saliba dominated Arsenal’s defensive third, anticipating, tackling, clearing danger and winning all but two of his 10 duels.

His physical prowess shone through as he took it in turns with Gabriel to get tight to Haaland. But it is his coolness and composure under pressure that makes him special.

Saliba won possession more times than any one else on the pitch, sometimes in seemingly effortless style, and often following it up with an extra touch amid the storm to find a team-mate.

Some Arsenal fans may wonder whether they could have taken three points rather than one, given City’s injury issues. But last year’s result showed the folly of an attack-minded approach at the Etihad.

This time, they showed maturity and resolve instead. “At this big place, not a lot of teams have done what we have done today,” added Arteta. His grin said the rest.
Nick Wright

Haaland took the heat but De Bruyne didn’t deliver

Image: Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne duels for the ball with Arsenal's Gabriel and William Saliba

Erling Haaland was in Roy Keane’s sights after Man City’s 0-0 draw with Arsenal and the striker was once again ineffective against the Gunners. William Saliba and Gabriel have found a way to keep him quiet this season.

But perhaps his main problem was the supply into him just wasn’t at the usual standard. Kevin De Bruyne only passed to him twice and the Belgian – who had been out of action for club and country since coming off against Liverpool 21 days ago – looked way off his usual standards.

His supporters can point to the fact he was the top chance creator in the game with four of his passes leading to a shot but this was not De Bruyne at his best. His passing accuracy of 71 per cent – only Haaland had worse among City players – was an indicator of that. He lost possession at least 10 times more than any other player on the pitch. The usual sharpness wasn’t there.

It would not have been a surprise to have seen him withdrawn on the hour mark when Phil Foden and Mateo Kovacic were taken off.

Of course, De Bruyne, like Haaland, gets judged more harshly than most because of the outrageous levels he’s set in the past. His return from his injury issues at the start of 2024 was so impressive. He hit the ground running. But City need him to re-find his form quickly for this finale where there is no margin for error and they need their key men clicking.
Peter Smith

Liverpool impressively defiant

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Highlights from the Premier League match between Liverpool and Brighton

Liverpool are making comebacks their thing. For the seventh time this season they went behind but ended the game triumphant – it’s got a whiff of ‘champion’s credentials’ about it.

Billed as Roberto De Zerbi’s opportunity to prove his tactical nouse with the Anfield job vacant this summer, few teams will give the Merseysiders a more difficult test on home turf. Brighton made an impression on this fixture but Liverpool ended superior.

  • Liverpool 2-1 Brighton – Report and highlights

Alexis Mac Allister’s brilliance was key, but even on an off day, Mo Salah registered the winner. Keep him fit and the Reds have every chance.

Jurgen Klopp’s side were indeed the big winners this weekend. Manchester City and Arsenal played out a goalless draw at the Etihad – and not a particularly exciting one – meaning they end a pivotal period on top. If nothing else, that will act as a huge psychological boost.

A new-found defiance will serve them well, too, as this enthralling title race meanders and zigzags in unpredictable directions. Nine to go, all to play for.

Maybe Klopp will get his fairytale ending after all.
Laura Hunter

Dunk shows why he is England ready

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Sanny Rudravajhala is joined by The Guardian’s Will Unwin to discuss Liverpool’s win against Roberto De Zerbi’s Brighton

There were reasons to feel sorry for Lewis Dunk in England’s defeat to Belgium. It wasn’t a night that went well for the Brighton skipper as it was his error that led to Youri Tielemans’ second goal. That wasn’t the real Dunk though – and those that watch Brighton regularly knew it.

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His place in the England squad for the Euros is under threat based on that error but if Gareth Southgate needed reminding of why Dunk is up there with the elite centre-backs the country has to offer, his performance at Anfield provided the evidence.

His passing was exceptional. From 107 passes attempted, he record a passing accuracy of 94.1 per cent – the highest average of any player on the pitch at Anfield. To stay that calm and composed under the intense Liverpool press at Anfield was commendable. When required, Dunk stood strong inside his box too, making eight clearances – again, no player made more. In this kind of form, there is no better player to partner John Stones at the heart of England’s defence.
Lewis Jones

Man Utd can’t go on like this

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Brentford and Manchester United

Where to start with a performance like that? It’s tough to say what’s more troublesome, the apparent lack of hunger or the system which allows a team fighting relegation to have 31 shots.

Erik ten Hag rightly addressed the mismatch in intensity. He said Brentford showed more “passion, desire and determination”. But he remains stubborn about his system that leaves gaping holes in midfield, even when it is producing jaw-dropping statistics:

  • Man Utd have allowed 106 shots across their four games in March.
  • They have conceded 20+shots in six of their last seven league games.
  • Brentford are the first side to have 80+ touches in their opponents’ box in the league this season.

Is this of concern to Ten Hag? “As long as we get results, no,” he said. “We concede shots but we don’t concede many goals,” he added. United have won three of their last six games in the league, conceding eight goals.

  • Report & highlights: Brentford 1-1 Man Utd
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

On paper, Ten Hag has a point, kind of. But what his analysis ignores is the manner of those wins – and even the losses.

United were almost constantly stretched at Aston Villa and Luton, riding their luck en route to 2-1 wins. The defeats to Man City and Fulham were alarming. Saturday’s draw at Brentford was kind, to say the least.

Ten Hag and Man Utd can’t go on like this forever. It’s not sustainable. Something has to change.
Zinny Boswell

Moyes allowed Newcastle comeback to happen

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League clash between Newcastle and West Ham

David Moyes was scarcely able to believe what he had seen.

  • How the teams lined up | Match stats
  • Live Premier League table | Fixtures | Results

After 53 minutes, West Ham were so comfortable that the away end started to bring out the “oles” as their attractive front four bopped the ball around holding a 3-1 lead.

It was a deserving lead, too. Mohammed Kudus had dazzled, Lucas Paqueta was running the game and Jarrod Bowen was in a ruthless mood.

But when the momentum started to shift, Moyes slipped back to his old ways of sitting on a lead instead of utilising West Ham’s clear advantage in the final third against the makeshift Newcastle defence, who were clearly struggling.

Kalvin Phillips was called for as Paqueta was moved up into a central striking role. As an attacking force, West Ham became redundant.

The blame has to sit at the manager’s door for that. Yes, Newcastle played with a renewed vigour and intensity but they were allowed to by a retreating Hammers outfit who sank without a trace.
Lewis Jones

Super-sub Johnson the hero in Spurs’ comeback win

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

Heung-Min Son may grab the headlines for his late winner against Luton but it was Brennan Johnson’s performance from the bench which was the real key to Tottenham’s comeback victory.

It had been a disappointing international break for Johnson after Wales suffered heartbreak in failing to reach Euro 2024 and that was compounded when he was left out of the starting line-up against Luton.

  • Tottenham 2-1 Luton – Report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

But the 22-year-old put all of that behind him to make a huge impact as a half-time substitute to turn around the game after Tottenham had trailed the relegation strugglers.

The Welshman provided the cross that set up the equalising own goal before then cleverly teeing up Son’s 86th-minute winner.

His performance drew praise from Spurs boss Ange Postecoglou in his post-match conference after the Australian had brought him on for Dejan Kulusevski.

“He [Brennan] was good,” Postecgolou said. “We felt that in the first half Deki [Kulusevski] was probably coming inside a little bit too much and we thought that Timo [Werner] was certainly getting some opportunities down the left-hand side.

“If we got Brennan on the right-hand side, he could equally be a threat. I thought both wingers in the second half were outstanding.”

He added: “With Brennan’s pace – and he’s got a really good quality delivery, gets in the box – I thought it was a game that was going to be good for him when he came on.”

The conundrum now for Postecoglou is whether to reward Johnson with a start against West Ham in a crucial London derby on Tuesday, or to keep him on the bench – where he is becoming a real weapon as a super-sub to turn games in Spurs’ favour.
Declan Olley

Chelsea sink to new low

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Chelsea and Burnley

Mauricio Pochettino firstly pointed to his heart, and then his head. The problem was not with his players’ legs, he insisted post-match, it was their lack of hunger that proved punishing.

A scarcity of personality, desire and basic instinct cost his side in a damaging draw with Burnley, who played over half the contest with a player less. As the Argentine acknowledged, there was plenty to dislike.

  • Chelsea 2-2 Burnley – Report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

“We didn’t show the minimum to compete in the Premier League”, he continued. That much was evident.

There’s something particularly curious about this Chelsea group. They look bright in possession, are bold and creative, good at carving openings too – a generated xG of 3.74 proves that.

But what this young, relatively experienced side lack is a backbone. Without throwing his players under the bus, that’s what Poch was inferring. Too many were anonymous. He, along with many inside Stamford Bridge, was struggling to rationalise how a team manage to drop two points from a winning position against 10 men staring relegation in the face.

Cole Palmer’s brilliance aside, Chelsea’s all-round offering was thoroughly amateur and proves just how far they are away from realising any consistent potential. Even the crowd was apathetic, barely moved to boo or jeer at the full-time whistle. How do you come back from that?
Laura Hunter

McBurnie-Brereton Diaz partnership comes too late for Blades

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Sheffield United and Fulham

The good news for Sheffield United is that Chris Wilder appears to have finally found an attacking set-up that works.

After trialling Will Osula, James McAtee and Rhian Brewster in attacking roles – to little success – Oli McBurnie and Ben Brereton Diaz are forming an effective strike partnership.

  • Sheffield United 3-3 Fulham – Report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

The powerful duo allow the Blades to be more direct. United attempted 75 long passes – their most of the season – at Bournemouth last time out and totalled nearly 50 against Fulham.

That McBurnie and Brereton Diaz both claimed assists to go with their goals shows how much they troubled Fulham’s back four.

But the bad news for United is that time may be running out. With just nine games to play, they are seven points from safety. Opta still rate their chances of escaping relegation at less than two per cent.

Too little, too late.
Joe Shread

Muniz transformation has taken everyone by surprise

Image: Rodrigo Muniz scores a spectacular equaliser for Fulham at Bramall Lane

Spare a thought for Armando Broja. After an underwhelming first half of the season, the Chelsea striker joined Fulham on loan in January in search of form and fitness.

The pathway seemed clear, with Fulham’s strikers having a combined total of just five Premier League goals before Broja’s arrival – all scored by Raul Jimenez.

But Broja can’t have envisioned Rodrigo Muniz’s remarkable transformation. Before the Albania international moved to Craven Cottage, Muniz had never scored a Premier League goal.

Nothing Muniz had done previously hinted at his rise. Last season, he scored twice for Middlesbrough in the Championship.

But since February, no player has scored more Premier League goals than the 22-year-old’s eight.

Against Sheffield United, he showed perfectly why he is currently one of the most-feared strikers in the top flight, twice striking the post before producing an exquisite piece of skill – just when his team needed it.

Meanwhile, Broja’s wait for his first Fulham start goes on. In truth, he can have no complaints.
Joe Shread

Has Southgate been watching Solanke closely enough?

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Bournemouth’s win over Everton in the Premier League

I feel for Dominic Solanke. For all the talk about who should be Harry Kane’s understudy for England at Euro 2024 this summer, the Bournemouth striker’s name has barely been mentioned.

Solanke was overlooked for England’s most recent friendlies against Brazil and Belgium – an international break designed to let Gareth Southgate experiment with those on the fringes of making his final squad for the tournament. Ollie Watkins and Ivan Toney were given chances to shine in Kane’s absence. Solanke was not even selected in the 26-man group.

Southgate clearly can’t pick everyone and undoubtedly has plenty of options, but it’s difficult to understand why Solanke wasn’t at least called up given his incredible club form this season.

  • Bournemouth 2-1 Everton – Match report and highlights
  • Watch Premier League highlights for free on Sky Sports

Another goal on Saturday – this time against Everton – took his Premier League tally to 16 – only Erling Haaland (18) has scored more than him during the current campaign so far.

While his goals have been a key reason for Bournemouth’s success, the former Chelsea and Liverpool forward’s contribution in other areas is equally as impressive. Solanke is also putting in the hard yards for his side, who under Andoni Iraola have transformed into a well-oiled, high-pressing machine.

Solanke has made the most pressures in the final third leading to a turnover in the Premier League this term, while just five players have won possession in the final third more times. The 26-year-old has evolved into a complete striker and England would only benefit from his qualities.

Solanke’s one cap for his country came back in 2017. He deserved to add to that total this month. Has Southgate been watching him closely enough?
Dan Sansom

Time for Everton to start delivering

Supporting Everton right now must be stressful. With the outcome of their second profitability and sustainability hearing looming and a dismal run of form in the Premier League leaving them just three points above the drop zone, these are worrying times. And that’s before you throw in the continued uncertainty around 777 Partners’ planned takeover of the club.

On the pitch, the Toffees are more than capable of avoiding a serious relegation battle – without a points deduction they would be sitting 14th – but they have not won in the league since December 16 and that needs to change quickly.

Image: Everton have not won in the Premier League since December 16

Fortunately, their fixture list is favourable. Dyche’s side still have to play every team below them in the league and with four games in April taking place at a roaring Goodison Park, there’s a real chance to pull away from danger before the final day.

Even if they are docked more points, Everton’s top-flight status remains in their own hands. But now is the time to start delivering.
Dan Sansom

Wharton and Eze forming exciting bond

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace

Just days on from his England U21 debut, Crystal Palace’s Adam Wharton continues to show his adaptation to the Premier League.

And with the likes of Michael Olise and Odsonne Edouard sidelined, the ever-impressive Eberechi Eze needs someone to bounce off, someone to feed him quality balls from midfield.

That is exactly what Wharton provided on Saturday. Either side of the break, the midfielder found Eze with two absolutely sublime passes, showing quality well beyond his 20 years. The first forced a brilliant save from Matz Sels too, while the second was not quite as fruitful.

  • Nottingham Forest 1-1 Crystal Palace – Report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

Between them, the pair topped a number of statistical categories – Wharton had a 100 per cent pass accuracy in the final third, while Eze added an assist for Jean-Philippe Mateta’s goal.

Speaking to Sky Sports after the game, Oliver Glasner said: “He [Wharton] is a brilliant passer, he has the pre-orientation and he always sees the man in the offence.

“In two situations, Eze ran into the gaps between the centre-back and full-back. This is what we always tell the players and he did it great.

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Oliver Glasner says his side had enough chances to win against Nottingham Forest after it ended 1-1

“Adam maybe has to improve with the physicality of the Premier League but he’s 20. He also played 25 minutes with the U21s so he looked a bit tired at the end, but that’s totally normal. He’s a very good player.”

Wharton continues the Crystal Palace trend of identifying young talent in the lower leagues and giving them a chance in the Premier League – Eze is an example of how well it works.

And if the pair can continue to hone that connection between midfield and attack, it will surely make for an exciting prospect for Crystal Palace.
Charlotte Marsh

Wood finding form under Nuno

Image: Chris Wood scored a second-half equaliser for Nottingham Forest

It is now two goals in two Premier League games for Chris Wood and the striker has found some good form under Nuno Espirito Santo.

The manager said of his striker: “Chris is doing an amazing job. When he’s healthy and on the pitch, it is always good. We rely on him.”

Admittedly, injuries have played their part in his absences this season, but he has now scored seven goals in 10 appearances since Nuno’s first game in charge on Boxing Day. It compares to just four goals in his first 23 Forest appearances.

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His two most recent goals were both assisted by Morgan Gibbs-White too, who continues to show his importance to Nottingham Forest.

If Wood can keep himself fit – and keep finding the net – he too could prove to be the difference in the club keeping themselves in the Premier League. So far, he is holding up his end of the bargain.
Charlotte Marsh

Wolves risk fizzling out without forwards

Football fans frequently call for youngsters to be given their opportunity but at Wolves right now it is the responsibility being thrust on their teenage forwards that is a source of frustration for supporters. Gary O’Neil will not say it but it is natural for him to wonder.

Without Pedro Neto, Hee-Chan Hwang and Matheus Cunha – his first-choice forward line all injured – it was left to Leon Chiwome to lead the line in Wolves’ 2-0 defeat to Aston Villa. Nathan Fraser had been handed that task in the FA Cup reverse against Coventry.

  • Aston Villa 2-0 Wolves – Report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

Chiwome was willing. “I hope he enjoyed bits of it,” said his manager. But just as Fraser had found against Championship opposition, it was difficult against experienced central defenders. Tawanda Chirewa, another prospect, fared little better when he came on.

Wolves might not have won against Villa even with their best team but they created enough to believe that it would have been entirely possible. This season has been a triumph for O’Neil, far exceeding expectations, but that is why this is such a pity for him and his side.

They could have gone seventh with victory at Villa Park and would be confident of getting a result against Burnley on Tuesday evening if just one of their front three were available to start. Without them, the fear is that their season could now fizzle out.
Adam Bate

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