Erling Haaland can break all sorts of Premier League scoring records this season and it still might not secure Manchester City another title.
That’s because there is just no stopping Arsenal, which overcame another big obstacle in its bid for a first league title since 2004.
A few hours after Haaland scored his fourth hat trick of the season in City’s 3-0 win over Wolverhampton, Arsenal responded by beating Manchester United 3-2 thanks to a 90th-minute winner by Eddie Nketiah.
Arsenal stayed five points clear of second-place City and has a game in hand. The top two must still meet each other twice in the league so there is scope for a turnaround.
It will need Arsenal to slow down and Haaland to keep on scoring. Currently, there’s no sign of either of those things happening.
Arsenal was relentless against United after going behind to Marcus Rashford’s ninth goal since the World Cup. Goals by Nketiah and Bukayo Saka put the hosts ahead, Lisandro Martinez equalized after a weak punch clear by Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, only for Nketiah to flick home from close range for a goal that was reviewed for offside.
”Emotional, passion and a lot of quality – it doesn’t get much better than that,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said. ”We never panicked, we kept believing.”
Remarkably, Arsenal has only dropped seven points from a possible 57 by the halfway stage of the season and has just come through a tough-looking run of games against Brighton, Newcastle, Tottenham and United by taking 10 points from 12.
It is Arsenal’s best start to a league season and only two teams – Liverpool (in 2018-19 and 2019-20) and City (in 2017-18) – have collected more points after 19 games.
With Haaland, though, there is hope for City, the defending champion.
The Norway striker moved to 25 goals for his debut league campaign in England by scoring all of City’s goals against Wolves. That would be enough to win the Golden Boot in the Premier League in any of the previous four seasons.
The record goal tally for a 38-game Premier League season is held by Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, with 32 in 2017-18. The most in a 42-game Premier League campaign was 34, by Alan Shearer and Andy Cole.
If Haaland stays fit, he is on course to easily surpass those records.
The quickest a player had previously scored four hat tricks in the Premier League was former Man United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, in 65 appearances. It has taken Haaland just 19 matches to achieve the feat as he continues to take English soccer by storm in his first season playing in the country of his birth.
”When he scores I don’t know how many hat tricks and goals (people say) he is the solution in our team and when he does not score a goal he is a problem in our team. This is a gray vision of this kind of things,” City manager Pep Guardiola said.
”We know his quality, we know each other … we have to adapt with him and I think we are doing quite well.”
Arsenal and City meet for the first time in the league on Feb. 15. Before that, they play each other at City’s Etihad Stadium in the FA Cup on Friday.
Allowing a late winner after having conceded a stoppage-time equalizer at Crystal Palace on Wednesday should halt talk of a possible title challenge for United.
United and third-place Newcastle are both six points behind City now and likely focusing more on securing a top-four finish to get in the Champions League.
Tottenham is a further six points back in fifth ahead of a game at Fulham on Monday.
United manager Erik ten Hag said it was ”maybe” a reality check for his team.
”We made mistakes which we cannot make,” he said. ”This game was decided by small details but also the decision-making. That is hard to accept and we have to learn from it.”
Leeds’ winless run in the league is up to six matches.
A 0-0 home draw with Brentford moved Leeds a point clear of the relegation zone but it was another frustrating game for the home fans, who saw Willy Gnonto denied by visiting goalkeeper David Raya in the best chance.
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80
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