football

Arsenal show ravenous hunger against Sheff Utd to keep pace with Liverpool, Man City - Premier League hits and misses

Much has been made of the pressure of playing last in this three-horse title race. But Arsenal do not appear to be feeling it.

Last week, a 4-1 win over Newcastle after Liverpool and Manchester City had beaten Luton and Bournemouth respectively. This week, a 6-0 demolition of Sheffield United after again watching their rivals claim maximum points in the earlier games.

Arsenal's appetite was clear from as early as the opening minute of Monday's meeting at Bramall Lane, with the hosts fortunate not to be behind even before Martin Odegaard's fifth-minute opener.

Alan Smith described what followed as a "tornado". It was apt. Arsenal, again, were relentless, winning a third consecutive Premier League away game by at least five goals. Since the turn of the year, it is seven wins in a row and a staggering 31 goals scored.

They have one thing their rivals do not: the ravenous hunger of a side with something to prove. These Manchester City and Liverpool teams know the taste of major silverware. Arsenal do not.

Their desperation to change that, to go on and win the club's first Premier League title in two decades, can be seen in these merciless recent performances.

Of course, the tempo dropped in the second half against Sheffield United. Substitutions were made. But even in the closing stages, six goals to the good, the game won several times over, Arsenal could be seen restarting play quickly, pushing and probing for more.

Their devastating attacking performances have given them a goal difference far superior to either Liverpool or City. At the other end, they continue to give next to nothing away. Across the last seven games, they have allowed only 2.11 expected goals against.

The numbers are remarkable. But it is their insatiable hunger for success which might ultimately make the difference.
Nick Wright

It feels that everyone at Sheffield United is resigned to their fate. The fans saw enough after 15 minutes after Arsenal's third goal. Chris Wilder resorted to picking youngsters such as Andre Brooks and Ollie Arblaster for the second half. Preparation for the Championship is under way.

The Blades may have more points than Derby's all-time low of just one win and 11 points from the 2007-08 season at the moment but they will surely go down as the worst Premier League team ever.

At one end of the pitch, they have conceded 72 goals so far and are well on course to claim the worst defensive season in Premier League history. At the other, the Blades forward line have never looking liked scoring enough goals since star striker Illiman N'Diaye was sold on the eve of the season.

Burnley have just as many points as United at the moment but at least they are good to watch at times. The Blades have, both on and off the pitch, put in the worst effort possible for survival.

"They were in a different league to us," Wilder said of Arsenal on Monday night. It won't be long until that is confirmed.
Sam Blitz

There was a curious section of Pep Guardiola's post-match address, where he told Sky Sports that he thought his side's first-half performance was better than their second.

A half with no goals scored, and one conceded, was better than a 45-minute period that contained three goals for and zero against?

It sounds strange on the face of it, but you break down his comments beyond surface value and you begin to understand the sentiment - 90 per cent pass completion, 18 shots and a generated xG of 2.73 - albeit questions can still be asked of the exact rationale behind an assertion so bold.

In truth, City were dominant throughout, it's just that Manchester United were fresher and tactically more astute before the break. They contained City better, staying organised and compact. Andre Onana was commanding too.

Unfortunately for Erik ten Hag, the same resilience was not applied to the second half and Manchester United crumbled under the weight of City's relentless pressure. This was an ominous all-round display. One that should worry both Arsenal and Liverpool in the title run-in.

Neither Kevin de Bruyne nor Erling Haaland were particularly on song, but that didn't matter. City reeled United in, just as they have done with their fellow title challengers - the perfect way to limber up for next Sunday's potentially defining showdown against Liverpool.
Laura Hunter

Erik ten Hag had claimed that Marcus Rashford could be unstoppable when at his best and that was the only way to describe his strike that stunned Manchester City early on. It was a blistering riposte to those who had criticised his performances this season.

There is no denying that Rashford has underwhelmed - this was only his sixth goal of Manchester United's campaign in all competitions. But for those doubting his ability, it was a fierce hit that showed what he is capable of. The challenge is unlocking it more often.

Whether that issue is mental, physical or tactical, this was evidence that there is nothing wrong with the technique. And yet, the afternoon ended in frustration, nevertheless, because of the opportunities spurned thereafter - and the consequences of that.

Poor control prevented him running through on goal when in behind soon after his strike. An air kick at the far post was a presentable chance too. Going down when Kyle Walker put a hand on his shoulder proved to be the turning point. City equalised immediately.

Rashford had been removed due to an injury before United lost the game following two late goals and he left to warm applause from the travelling support. He had given a spectacular answer to his critics. And yet, one suspects, the questions will continue to come.
Adam Bate

It is now becoming conceivable, perhaps even likely, Burnley will end this season with just one win from their 19 Premier League home games. A record so bad, it is in danger of eclipsing even the dismal Derby County of 2007/08.

It would be a damning indictment of a squad which, though cheaply assembled by modern-day Premier League standards, is hardly out of the ordinary relative to other promoted Championship sides.

Vincent Kompany won plaudits for the manner with which his Clarets side sauntered to the second-tier title last season. He deserved it - revamping the Clarets from long-ball merchants to passing kings practically overnight was no small feat.

But such a style change is only as impressive as the outcomes it produces. Burnley have kept up that same philosophy this season, but the results have long deserted them. Sunday's defeat to Bournemouth was a case in point.

The Cherries arrived at Turf Moor without a win in seven. Burnley flew out of the traps and dominated shots, possession, opposition-box touches, final-third entries - about every metric you could think of.

Except one - goals. For the 11th time from 14 at Turf Moor this season. And it's not hard to see why. From 20 shots, they created an xG of just 1.53 - still their third-highest of the season.

Yet again, Burnley were far the better team until they reached the final third. Neat and tidy, but lacking quality delivery - even when overloading wide areas through both full-backs. Even when they did reach dangerous areas, there was a heavy touch here or one too many there.

That wouldn't be so bad if the Clarets weren't so powderpuff at the other end. They have only scored four goals fewer than Everton, who barring their points deduction would be 11 points clear of the relegation zone, but have shipped 23 more.

Bournemouth were not the first team to soak up the hosts' early pressure and score from their first real chance, an eminently defendable ball over the top which Dara O'Shea and Maxime Esteve failed to deal with.

It's glib to say football is won in both boxes, but it is as true in Burnley's case as anyone's. And that's why, barring a minor miracle in the last 11 games of the season, they are heading back to the Championship with a whimper.
Ron Walker

On the way up for the 300-mile round trip to Burnley, Bournemouth fans were likely sweating over the fitness of Dominic Solanke. On the way back, they will be wondering why they worried in the first place.

Yes, the 26-year-old was an important focal point up front at times but watched on as his team-mates created their two goals at Burnley without him. Sunday's win showed there is more to Bournemouth than Solanke.

Recent games showed an over-reliance on the Cherries forward. When he scores, Bournemouth pick up points. When he doesn't, they lose.

In fact, Solanke has scored the highest percentage of his team's goals out of all Premier League players - and this is the first time since early December that Andoni Iraola's side have won without their star man getting on the scoresheet.

But Antoine Semenyo has five Premier League goals. Justin Kluivert has four, while there is plenty of attacking depth through Marcus Tavernier, Ryan Christie and Luis Sinisterra.

It means if Solanke, who has 14 goals this season, is to move on this summer - and there will be suitors - then Bournemouth have the foundations to move on without him.
Sam Blitz

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