City, Arsenal play goalless draw to Liverpool’s benefit

Published April 1, 2024
LIVERPOOL: Luis Diaz of Liverpool shoots to score against Brighton and Hove Albion during their English Premier League match at Anfield on Sunday.—AFP
LIVERPOOL: Luis Diaz of Liverpool shoots to score against Brighton and Hove Albion during their English Premier League match at Anfield on Sunday.—AFP

MANCHESTER: Arsenal nullified reigning champions Manchester City’s attack in a 0-0 draw at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, allowing Liverpool to take top spot on a pivotal day in the Premier League’s three-way title race.

Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal, in the hunt for their first league title in 20 years, are second in the table on 65 points with nine games remaining, while City are third with 64. Liverpool, on 67 points, claimed the lead with their 2-1 comeback victory over Brighton & Hove Albion earlier on Sunday.

The match failed to live up to its billing as a battle of titans. City dominated possession with 72.2 per cent and came at Arsenal in waves.

But the visitors frustrated Pep Guardiola’s men — including league-leading scorer Erling Haaland — with a textbook defensive display to extend their unbeaten league run to nine games and end their streak of eight losses at the Etihad.

Usually prolific Man City were restricted to just one shot on goal and it was the first time in 58 games that they have not scored at home.

“We want all the three points obviously, and we tried our best to get the win ... but we’ll take the point and move on,” Arsenal skipper Martin Odegaard said. “We had to defend a lot, a bit more deep than we would have liked. It was a tight game and a tough one. So much can happen before the end of the season, we have to take it game-by-game.”

Gabriel Jesus had Arsenal’s best chances, firing two shots just wide in the first half and then narrowly failing to meet an inviting cross from Bukayo Saka. City’s best opportunity was Kevin De Bruyne’s early corner kick that glanced off the shoulder of Nathan Ake but fell to keeper David Raya.

City parked themselves in Arsenal’s half over a final tense few minutes but the visitors held strong. The normally reliable Haaland failed to make contact with the ball when he seemed to have a simple finish from Josko Gvardiol’s header late in the game, holding his head in his hands in frustration while the City fans groaned.

SALAH FIRES REDS

Mohamed Salah fired Liverpool to the top of the table as the Egypt star’s clinical finish capped a stirring fightback to beat Brighton.

Jurgen Klopp’s side were rocked by Danny Welbeck’s blistering strike after just 85 seconds at Anfield.

Luis Diaz restored order with an equaliser later in the first half, before Salah netted after the interval to seal a vital victory.

Salah’s third goal in his last three games was his 22nd in all competitions this term.

Thanks to Salah, treble-chasing Liverpool are in the driving seat as they eye a record-equalling 20th English title — and first since 2020 — in Klopp’s final season.

“Being that calm in the decisive moment with the biggest chance we had from the best football we played, then that makes a real goalscorer so we are happy with everything,” Klopp said of Salah. “Brighton’s centre-halves were outstanding and it was just a really good game, against an opponent you know it will be the hardest work.

“To defend them needs the highest intensity in English football and we did well. More possession, better possession, a really good rhythm.”

Brighton’s Simon Adingra broke quickly in a devastating counter-attack that caught Liverpool right-back Conor Bradley out of position.

When Virgil van Dijk’s scuffed clearance rolled to Welbeck just inside the penalty area, the Brighton forward lashed a strike into the top corner to leave Klopp shaking his head.

Salah was making his first league start since New Year’s Day after an injury-plagued beginning to 2024. Looking to make up for lost time, Salah nearly grabbed the equaliser with a curler that whistled just wide.

The Egypt forward threatened again from Bradley’s cross, but he couldn’t keep his shot on target from a good position 10 yards out.

Liverpool’s dominance was rewarded in the 27th minute when Brighton failed to clear Salah’s header from a corner and Diaz volleyed home from close range.

Wave after wave of Liverpool pressure crashed against Brighton’s defensive wall before De Zerbi’s men cracked in the 65th minute.

Mac Allister was catalyst with a perfectly-weighted pass that picked out Salah’s run into the area and the forward dispatched a composed low finish past Verbruggen.

VILLA WIN, UNITED HELD

Aston Villa were not at their best but stayed on course for a place in the Champions League next season with a 2-0 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday.

Moussa Diaby and Ezri Konsa scored at Villa Park as the home side remain in fourth place with 59 points from 30 matches, three points ahead of Tottenham Hotspur, who have a game in hand and are their most likely challengers for a top-four finish.

The home side took the lead nine minutes before halftime when a free kick was cleared to the edge of the box by Wolves and Diaby rifled his rasping shot into the top corner for an eighth goal of the season across all competitions.

Villa replaced England striker Watkins with Jhon Duran at halftime and they doubled their advantage midway through the second period.

Having offered little in attack to that point, they worked the ball to the right of the Wolves penalty box and Konsas attempted cross floated into the net at the back post.

Meanwhile, Kristoffer Ajer’s 99th-minute equaliser salvaged a point for Brentford in a 1-1 draw with Manchester United, denting the Old Trafford club’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

Substitute Mason Mount thought he had given United an undeserved and dramatic victory when he slotted home in the 96th minute after Brentford had dominated the game.

But Ajer smashed home Ivan Toney’s cutback from close range three minutes later to give the Bees a point which sees them remain in 15th, five points above the relegation zone.

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2024

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