Mikel Arteta hailed match-winner Kai Havertz as an “exceptional player” after his late header saw Arsenal beat Brentford to move top of the Premier League.

With title rivals Liverpool and Manchester City facing off on Sunday, any victory for Arsenal would have taken them to the summit for the first time in 2024 – they will stay there if that game is drawn.

It looked like they were on course to miss out after returning goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale gifted a goal to Yoane Wissa to cancel out a brilliant Declan Rice header, only for Havertz to convert with four minutes remaining to secure a 2-1 victory.

Havertz was serenaded by the home fans at full-time as he made it four goals in his last four league games, continuing to bely the criticism of his early-season form following his move from Chelsea.

“I’m so happy,” Arteta said when asked if Havertz had now justified his big-money move.

“If somebody told me after the first two or three months that the whole stadium would be singing his song with that passion, with that feeling, with that chemistry, I would have found it hard to believe.

“That’s what happens to good people. He’s an exceptional player. When he starts to score goals like this and everything starts to flow people feel more connected with him.

“They see his work rate, they see his intelligence, they see how he plays for the team and how he’s contributing. It’s impossible not to love him.”

Rice rose to head home a career-best sixth goal of the season but deep in first-half stoppage time, Ramsdale collected a routine back-pass from Gabriel Maghalaes but dallied in possession and his attempted clearance was blocked into the net by Wissa.

Ramsdale has not played since the return game at Brentford in November after losing the battle for the Arsenal number one spot to David Raya – who is on loan from the Bees and therefore ineligible against his parent club – and this could yet be his final outing for the Gunners.

He recovered to make two smart saves in the second-half and Arteta was pleased his error did not ultimately cost the Gunners.

“I’m really happy especially because he did exactly what he is, which is a person with huge personality and courage, very determined,” he said.

“Errors are part of football. It’s how you react to it, especially for the keepers which is probably the most difficult position. He did so in an amazing way. I’m not surprised because the whole team and the whole stadium was behind him.

“He has earned that respect and admiration. We really wanted to win for him.”

Havertz’s header meant Ramsdale’s blushes were spared – but Brentford boss Thomas Frank felt the Germany forward was lucky to still be on the pitch to score the winner.

Having been booked for an elbow on Kristoffer Ajer, he managed to avoid a second caution despite seemingly diving in an attempt to win a penalty.

“Havertz is a clear, clear dive,” said Frank.

“I wish they would just admit it. I don’t know if he has because that happens all the time, every week someone is doing it. I know it happens.

“That should of course been a second yellow and a red card. And then he wouldn’t be able to score the winner and hopefully maybe we would have gained a little bit more momentum, maybe to win the game.”

Kai Havertz headed home a late winner against Brentford to send Arsenal top of the Premier League and spare the blushes of goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.

With title rivals Liverpool and Manchester City facing off on Sunday, any victory for Arsenal would have been enough to take them to the summit for the first time in 2024.

It looked like they were on course to miss out after Ramsdale gifted a goal to Yoane Wissa to cancel out a brilliant Declan Rice header, only for Havertz to convert with four minutes remaining to secure a 2-1 victory.

Mikel Arteta has seen his team sweep aside all comers in recent weeks but this was another face to Arsenal, an attritional display that will see them remain as league leaders if Liverpool and City share the spoils at Anfield.

Ramsdale has not played since the return game at Brentford in November after losing the battle for the Arsenal number one spot to David Raya – who is on loan from the Bees and therefore ineligible against his parent club – and this could yet be his final outing for the Gunners.

Ivan Toney, linked with Arsenal throughout January, cleared an inswinging Rice corner off the line early on but unlike recent games away from home Arsenal did not have everything their own way in the opening stages.

They would, however, still break the deadlock as Ben White crossed for Rice to head home like an accomplished Premier League striker as he enjoys the best goalscoring season of his career with six goals.

From that point on, Arsenal looked in control – that was until deep into first-half stoppage time when Ramsdale collected a routine back-pass from Gabriel Magalhaes but dallied in possession and, as he attempted to clear, was closed down by Wissa.

The block could have gone anywhere but looped into the back of Ramsdale’s net to take the teams in level at the break.

Brentford smelled blood and after the interval Toney attempted an audacious effort with Ramsdale off his line – but this time he made a good stop to turn the goal-bound strike behind.

Arsenal were still the more dangerous side and Gabriel almost headed home a Bukayo Saka corner only for Vitaly Janelt to block into the grateful hands of goalkeeper Mark Flekken.

The hosts were getting more and more frustrated with referee Robert Jones as they felt a number of penalty claims went against them, although Havertz was lucky to escape a second booking after seemingly diving inside the box just after the hour.

Brentford were still threatening and Ramsdale was now providing the rearguard protection, brilliantly tipping over a Nathan Collins header as the second half drew on.

The game was opening up into an end-to-end contest as Rice rattled the crossbar with a bending effort from outside the box, with nerves creeping in around the Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal, though, manfully stuck to the task at hand and ultimately found a way through as White once again provided the cross, Havertz this time diverting a header past Flekken for his fourth goal in four league games.

Brentford manager Thomas Frank dismissed as “disrespectful” speculation linking him with taking over at Manchester United, and hinted at sticking around at the Gtech Stadium long enough to win silverware.

Uncertainty has arisen over the future of United boss Erik ten Hag since new minority investor Sir Jim Ratcliffe took charge of football operations at Old Trafford.

But Frank has distanced himself from any suggestion he could be in the frame to step in and steer the Ineos rebuild.

“A lot of rumours and links,” he said. “I’ve said it before in other situations, I think it’s disrespectful to Erik ten Hag. He is doing everything he can to do well for Manchester United.”

Brentford have enjoyed unprecedented success since the Dane was appointed head coach following the departure of Dean Smith in 2018, guiding them into the Premier league for the first time and securing two comfortable mid-table finishes.

It is the second time this season his name has been linked with a major top-flight club with Liverpool also reported to be considering him when Jurgen Klopp steps down in the summer.

But the 50-year-old said he is as likely to stay in west London and pursue the club’s first major trophy as to seek a challenge elsewhere.

“When I took the head coach job, I don’t think I expected to be here five years later,” said Frank. “Not because I didn’t want to. It’s just impossible to predict where you are. Where I am right now, I’m very happy. It’s a fantastic club.

“It’s very difficult to predict. I’ve got ambitions. I’d like to see what life will potentially give me, what opportunities. But that opportunity could also be staying at Brentford for a long time, win a trophy here.

“It’s natural, a lot of people talking about what is the next aim. For me, instead of dreaming, it’s about getting your head down, work hard, then let’s see.”

Brentford face title-chasing Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday, with last season’s top scorer Ivan Toney coming up against a side with whom he has been heavily linked.

Frank has previously hinted the 27-year-old, who scored 20 league goals last season but has less than 18 months left on his Brentford contract, could be sold in the summer, whilst Gunners boss Mikel Arteta has stated he is in the market for a striker.

“Ivan is a Brentford player,” said Frank. “If he is here next season, I’ll be very happy. I think he is a fantastic striker. I understand all the talk about him and all the rumours, because how many strikers have proved they can scored more than 20 goals in the Premier League?

“He is in the peak of his career. We’ve seen so many players that are only getting better, and especially strikers. I think the next four or five years he will be on an absolute top level.

“If any club in the world are missing a top-level striker, I would understand why they were interested in him.”

What the papers say

Brentford are reportedly keeping tabs on Norwich’s in-form American striker Josh Sargent. The Sun says the Bees view the 24-year-old, who has scored 11 goals in 17 matches this season, as an ideal replacement for Ivan Toney, who is expected to be sold in the summer.

Miguel Gutierrez is on the radar of Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag, according to The Sun. Citing a report from Spanish outlet Mundo Deportivo, the paper says the 22-year-old defender is a high priority transfer target for the United boss, though Gutierrez’s former club are thought to Real Madrid retain 50 per cent of his rights and a buy-back clause and could prove a substantial roadblock for the Red Devils.

And the Daily Mirror reports Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United all had scouts in attendance to watch Sporting Lisbon striker Viktor Gyokeres net his 31st goal of the season against Benfica last week.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Andy Robertson: Football Insider says Liverpool are set to open contract talks with the defender, who has been linked with Bayern Munich in recent days.

Francesco Camarda: Gazzetta dello Sport, via Football Italia, reports Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund are monitoring the 15-year-old AC Milan forward.

Axel Disasi admitted Chelsea’s 2-2 draw at west London rivals Brentford was two points dropped.

Defender Disasi’s late header secured a point for the Blues, who led through Nicolas Jackson’s first-half goal but then trailed to strikes from Mads Roerslev and Yoanne Wissa.

It was another unconvincing display from Chelsea and one that prompted the away fans to turn on head coach Mauricio Pochettino for the first time.

“To be honest we are left frustrated. I think in the first half we deserve to score maybe one goal more,” Disasi told the club website.

“Then after half time they pushed and we have to do better because we lost two points. I think we had the quality to win the game, so the feeling is a little bit sad.

“I’m happy to score and we didn’t lose because of this goal, that is good. But it would be a much better feeling if this goal was for the win. It was not the case but hopefully will be in the future.”

Wissa scored a spectacular overhead kick which the DR Congo international admitted was the best of his career – despite some stiff competition.

“This is the best one,” he said. “If I have to compare it, a goal against Oldham (in September 2021). But this is better because this is the Premier League against this kind of team.

“Especially in this time – it’s not an easy time for every fan and player – it means a lot to me, especially after coming back from AFCON.

“In the second half we gave only one and a half chances away. The second half was much better.

“Everyone stepped up their level and the crowd was with us. This is how we want it, this is how Brentford play. It means a lot for the team. I’m very happy with that.

“It came from the players. This is what we wanted, some personality.”

Mauricio Pochettino shrugged off the jeers from Chelsea fans after a section of them turned on him during the 2-2 draw at Brentford.

The Blues were leading through a Nicolas Jackson header but were pegged back by Mads Roerslev’s close-range strike after half-time.

And shortly after Yoane Wissa put Brentford ahead with a spectacular overhead kick, the away fans began singing the name of former manager Jose Mourinho as well as calling for Pochettino to go.

But the Blues at least rescued a point on Pochettino’s 52nd birthday after Axel Disasi scored a late equaliser.

Afterwards the Argentinian boss insisted he does not need to be loved by the supporters.

“I’ve been told, I didn’t hear to be honest, it’s difficult for me to understand,” he said.

“But it’s normal, we were losing the game 2-1 and they expressed their frustration. I am one of the ones responsible, I’m the coach.

“I was asked before if I feel the love from the fans. No. I’m not worried – we need to accept this relationship. You win your relationship through winning games.

“I will continue to work and try to change this perception. We need to manage some reality. We are working really hard to try to win games, the team is fighting.

“If it doesn’t work and the fans are disappointed I need to respect their opinion. I think the relationship is good. If they did what they did, fans are emotional.

“I am fighting with all my sense to try to provide a team to play in the best way to score goals and win games. Today is my 52nd birthday, I know this business, but I’m going to fight.”

Brentford have a lengthy injury list but are still admirably keeping their heads above the relegation scrap.

Bees boss Thomas Frank felt he got the response he wanted from his patched-up side after the 4-2 defeat at West Ham on Monday.

“I would have loved three points, but it was a relatively even game in terms of chances,” said Frank.

“I’m very pleased with the response after a bad performance at West Ham. Today I must say, impressive.

“Three years ago when we got promoted Chelsea won the Champions League, and I think they have renewed their squad since then.

“We had seven players out injured, they had a full squad, and we battered them in the second half. This was a proper Brentford performance.”

There were a smattering of boos from the home supporters at half-time but Frank said: “I heard that. I’d like to speak to them. Is that support?

“I know I can’t swear, but what the…?”

Chelsea fans turned on Mauricio Pochettino as they watched their side labour to a 2-2 draw at west London rivals Brentford.

The Blues were leading through a Nicolas Jackson header but were pegged back by Mads Roerslev’s close-range strike.

And shortly after Yoane Wissa put Brentford ahead with a spectacular overhead kick, the away fans began singing the name of former manager Jose Mourinho as well as calling for Pochettino to go.

But the Blues at least rescued a point on Pochettino’s 52nd birthday after Axel Disasi scored a late equaliser.

Jackson probably summed up his erratic first season leading the Chelsea line in the space of 10 first-half minutes.

First the Senegal forward embarked on a promising run into the Brentford area, only to try one step-over too many and somehow tackle himself.

Then he latched onto Enzo Fernandez’s through-ball, took it round Bees keeper Mark Flekken and rolled it towards an empty net.

However, he undercooked his finish and allowed Mathias Jorgensen to get back and hack the ball clear from underneath the crossbar.

But 10 minutes before half-time Jackson did brilliantly to leap between Bees centre-halves Jorgensen and Kristoffer Ajer and meet Malo Gusto’s cross with a powerful header to open the scoring.

Pochettino had bemoaned his side’s injury problems this season before the match, but Brentford’s have been horrendous.

Ben Mee’s fractured ankle at West Ham on Monday made him the fifth Bees player to suffer a season-ending injury, and with Ethan Pinnock, Rico Henry and Aaron Hickey also sidelined an entire back four has been wiped out.

For a team who were without key striker Ivan Toney for half a season and are still missing fellow frontmen Bryan Mbeumo and Kevin Schade, the fact that they are not even deeper in the relegation scrap seems remarkable in itself.

Yet their resolve could never be questioned and the patched-up Bees duly hauled themselves level five minutes after half-time when Toney launched the ball into the area.

Sergio Reguilon’s shot was blocked but the ball rolled to wing-back Roerslev who lashed it past Djordje Petrovic.

They almost led two minutes later when Vitaly Janelt fired through a sea of Blue bodies and shaved the foot of the post.

But Chelsea blew a golden chance when Gusto led a four-versus-two counter-attack and squared the ball to Cole Palmer, who scuffed wide from 10 yards out.

It looked like a costly miss in the 68th minute when Reguilon crossed from the left, Frank Onyeka kept the loose ball alive and the Wissa acrobatically hooked it into the roof of the net.

But with seven minutes remaining Disasi arrived at the far post to head home a cross from Palmer and snatch a point for Pochettino.

David Moyes hopes West Ham have turned a corner after finally beating bogey side Brentford 4-2.

On a night of firsts, Jarrod Bowen scored a first career hat-trick to ease the pressure on boss Moyes after a rotten run of eight matches without a win.

The Hammers won their first match of 2024, with Bowen scoring his first goals since before Christmas and becoming the first Hammers player to hit a treble at the London Stadium.

It means West Ham, for all the talk of their poor form and Moyes’ future, are back up to eighth and in the mix for Europe again.

“Most teams have difficult periods in the Premier League. Manchester City have, Liverpool have, so West Ham are certainly going to be no different,” said Moyes.

“We’ve struggled to get our best team out, but overall if we can get our better players out there we can compete with most teams.”

Bowen scored twice inside the opening seven minutes before Neal Maupay pulled one back for the Bees, who had beaten West Ham in all five of their previous Premier League meetings.

Bowen headed his third midway through the second half and Emerson Palmieri hit a 20-yard rocket before Yoanne Wissa pulled another back.

“I’m really pleased for Jarrod, his performances have gone unnoticed as we’ve not been playing well,” added Moyes.

“Tonight it happened for him, his all-round play, the way he was working, he was a threat all night and hopefully the goals will get him back in (England manager) Gareth (Southgate’s) thinking.

“If you can play wide and you’re a goalscorer you will be of interest to the international manager.”

Maupay, Brentford’s premier wind-up merchant, was seen having a heated discussion with Hammers coach Kevin Nolan as the teams came back out of the tunnel for the second half.

“I actually didn’t know who the row was with, I thought maybe it was with the fourth official. I didn’t see it so I can’t really tell you anything about that,” said Moyes.

Brentford, already plunged deeper into the relegation scrap earlier on Monday following Everton’s points deduction being reduced from 10 to six, suffered another defeat – their 12th in 15 matches since beating West Ham at home in November.

“Today we didn’t hit a good level individually and collectively. West Ham hit a good level, Bowen was unplayable, Emerson hit the top corner and we lost 4-2,” was boss Thomas Frank’s blunt assessment.

“I need to watch the game back because one of the things we’ve been good at is consistent performances. There are very few games where we don’t perform to a certain level and this was only the third this season we’ve been below our level.

Asked whether the Everton situation had an effect, Frank replied “Absolutely not.

“I think right now I’m very irritated with our performance, that’s the main focus.”

Jarrod Bowen scored a hat-trick as West Ham beat bogey side Brentford 4-2 to ease the pressure on David Moyes.

The Hammers won their first match of 2024, with Bowen scoring his first goals since before Christmas, to end a miserable run of eight games without a victory which had prompted more questions about the manager’s future.

Played five, lost five was their sorry Premier League record against Brentford, the only team of the 43 Moyes had faced in the top flight and not previously beaten.

Finally the rot was stopped as Brentford, already plunged deeper into the relegation scrap earlier on Monday following Everton’s points deduction being reduced from 10 to six, suffered another defeat – their 12th in 15 matches since beating West Ham at home in November.

Where this West Ham have been for the past two months is anyone’s guess. They should have led after only three minutes when James Ward-Prowse flicked on Vladimir Coufal’s cross, only for Tomas Soucek to blaze over from six yards out.

But moments later they did go ahead when Ward-Prowse sent Emerson Palmieri down the left wing.

The Italian defender pulled the ball back for Bowen, who took a touch before lashing his shot past Mark Flekken.

Bowen, who had not scored a Premier League goal in seven matches, suddenly had two inside the first seven minutes.

This time Coufal found the England hopeful 10 yards out and he calmly slotted past Flekken to double the lead.

But the Bees were stung into action and responded in the 13th minute through Neal Maupay, who stole in to score his fifth goal in as many starts against the Hammers.

West Ham looked for a third before half-time, but Soucek missed his kick in front of goal, fit-again Lucas Paqueta volleyed wide and a Mohammed Kudus drive was held by Flekken.

It had not been a particularly niggly half, but Maupay, Brentford’s premier wind-up merchant, seemed to say something which riled Hammers coach Kevin Nolan as they came back out of the tunnel, with Bees defender Mathias Jorgensen separating the pair.

Ivan Toney was inches away from an equaliser when he just failed to get a touch to an inviting cross from Keane Lewis-Potter.

Instead, in the 64th minute, Bowen completed his treble – the first by a West Ham player at the London Stadium – with a simple header from Kudus’ cross.

Home keeper Alphonse Areola saved a Frank Onyeka volley down low at his near post before the Hammers grabbed their fourth in style.

Another Kudus cross was headed out to Emerson, 20 yards out, and the full-back launched a rocket past Flekken into the top corner.

Bees substitute Yoane Wissa pulled another back late on and Areola denied Toney in stoppage time as West Ham held on for a win which was almost as impressive as it was unexpected.

Stanley Bowles raised his arms into the air and took the acclaim of the Loftus Road crowd.

It was a familiar sight throughout the 1970s, but this was August 2015 and was to be the last time Bowles graced the pitch he once ruled.

Bowles, the former QPR, Brentford and England inside-forward, has died aged 75 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

He looked in good physical shape as he was presented to the crowd on ‘Stan Bowles Day’, QPR’s home fixture against Rotherham, but his condition had already taken its toll.

Nevertheless Don Shanks, Bowles’ best friend and former Rangers team-mate who accompanied him out on to the pitch, told the Guardian: “When Stan walked out at Loftus Road he knew exactly where he was, for some reason. A moment of knowing who he was.”

The epitome of the 1970’s football maverick, there was a time when pretty much everyone knew who Bowles was.

Born in Collyhurst, Manchester, on Christmas Eve 1948, Bowles began his career as an apprentice at Manchester City.

A brief stint at Bury followed before Bowles joined Fourth Division Crewe, whose manager Ernie Tagg came up with the immortal line: “If Stan could pass a betting shop like he can pass a football, he’d be a rich man.” Without the benefit of hindsight, it would go on to sum up an entire career.

Bowles moved up two divisions to join Carlise and then, in September 1972, signed for QPR for a fee of £110,000.

Over the next seven years, Bowles made 315 league appearances for Rangers and scored 97 goals.

Yet those figures barely scratch the surface of Bowles’ talent – think Lionel Messi playing with a cigarette in one hand, a lager top in the other and a copy of the Racing Post sticking out of his back pocket.

A snake-hipped bag of bones, often wearing a kit that seemed to look two sizes too big, Bowles jinked, feinted, dribbled and darted past the poor, unsuspecting full-backs of the day.

A trademark goal would see Bowles drop his shoulder, cut inside on to his right foot and effortlessly accelerate, leaving a right-back floundering in a blur of quick feet and long hair, before driving the ball in at the near post.

The trouble was – as Tagg alluded to – that Bowles knew his way around the watering holes and betting shops around Loftus Road almost as well as he knew his way around the pitch.

So naturally talented was Bowles that he felt he did not have to try, an attitude which ultimately limited him to only five England caps, his one international goal coming against Wales at Ninian Park in 1974.

In 1979, a move to Nottingham Forest and a relationship made in hell with Brian Clough was predictably unsuccessful and a year later Bowles joined Second Division Leyton Orient.

He wound down his playing career back in west London with Brentford, enjoying an Indian summer which saw him named the club’s player of the year in 1982. Bowles is fondly remembered for his time at Griffin Park and in a recent poll was voted the best player in their history by fans of both QPR and Brentford.

Less auspicious was an appearance on TV’s Superstars, where athletes competed against each other at different sports. A hungover Bowles scored seven points, the lowest in the show’s history.

A chaotic lifestyle was characterised by Bowles agreeing sponsorship deals with two different boot companies for the same match and wearing one of each.

Upon his retirement, in 1984, Bowles moved into after-dinner speaking, worked as a pundit for Sky Sports and had his own betting column. His 1996 autobiography revealed the extent of his drinking, womanising and gambling during his playing days.

In his later years, Bowles could be spotted flitting between the pubs and the bookies of Shepherd’s Bush, now without the inconvenience of having to fit a football match in between.

Upon being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Bowles moved back to Manchester to be cared for by his eldest daughter, Andria. He is survived by Andria, his second daughter, Tracy, and son Carl.

Pep Guardiola admitted his side needed the killer instinct of Erling Haaland after they edged out Brentford 1-0 in a nervy encounter that left his side one point behind Premier League leaders Liverpool.

Haaland settled the contest in the 71st minute when he punished a slip from Kristoffer Ajer, running from the halfway line to slot the ball under the unfortunate Mark Flekken, who had another outstanding match against the reigning champions.

After a week in which Guardiola had to answer questions about the Norwegian star, whose misses proved costly in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea, Haaland made no mistake with one of the very few clear chances a well-organised Brentford side afforded City on the night.

“If I had to choose one (player), I choose this one,” Guardiola said of the moment.

It was Haaland’s third goal in seven games since returning from the foot injury that sidelined him for two months. Last week, he mourned the death of his grandmother Tone Rascal, mother of his father Alf-Inge, at the age of 80.

Asked if he had needed to speak to the striker, Guardiola said: “We spoke about the moment and I realised this later, but he didn’t say anything about the passing away of his grandmother. We talked about how he feels and of course for his father.

“In this type of game like Brentford, you need Erling. With not much space, you can play with a typical striker.”

City struggled to break down a determined Brentford side. Kevin De Bruyne was kept on the bench throughout the night, not even emerging to warm up with the game in the balance, and Guardiola revealed the Belgian playmaker had a hamstring issue, having already missed five months of the season.

“Today we could not use Kevin because he had niggles in his hamstring and I didn’t want to take risk,” he said, adding: “He’s okay. It’s just a precaution but he didn’t feel comfortable and so after five months off we didn’t take any risk.”

Brentford had defended doggedly before the goal, more than once having all 11 players inside their own box in open play. Bernardo Silva headed a glorious chance wide before Oscar Bobb created space only to shoot straight at Flekken, but otherwise there were few real opportunities.

Having taken six points off City last season, Brentford threatened to do damage to their title bid again this time before Haaland stepped in – he has now scored against all 21 opponents he has faced in the Premier League.

“I think throughout the game we were brilliant, I’m very proud and pleased with the players’ performance,” Bees manager Thomas Frank said. “They believed and it gives me a lot of belief in them going forwards.

“The way we defended the whole game was magnificent in terms of structure, defensive principles, urgency. Before the goal, we gave away the header to Bernardo Silva and the Oscar Bobb chance and it was two big chances. If you can limit City to two big chances, you have done a very good job.

“If (Ajer) doesn’t slip I’m convinced it would not be a goal. Haaland is quick but Kristoffer is as quick. City are good so they don’t need the margins going their way.”

Erling Haaland came to Manchester City’s rescue as the off-colour champions eked out a nervy 1-0 win over Brentford in the Premier League on Tuesday.

The prolific Norwegian, who spurned a host of chances in a frustrating draw with Chelsea at the weekend, returned to form as he broke the deadlock in a tight encounter at the Etihad Stadium after 71 minutes.

The win lifted City above Arsenal into second in the table, one point behind leaders Liverpool, having played the same number of games in what is shaping up to be a tight title race.

Pep Guardiola’s side dominated the first half, but the second period was proving a frustrating affair until Haaland broke clear of the Bees defence to slot home a fine finish.

Brentford were the last team to beat City at home in November 2022 and, having also tested them in a 3-1 loss earlier this month, again caused them problems.

City, with Kevin De Bruyne on the bench, started the brighter, with Haaland shooting at Mark Flekken after just three minutes and Phil Foden also forcing a save and having another effort blocked.

But Brentford, to their credit, were not content to sit back and did pose a threat on the counter-attack.

Yoane Wissa was denied a chance to shoot by a fine John Stones tackle and Frank Onyeka should have done better than firing straight at Ederson after being played through on goal.

Ivan Toney also shot narrowly over from a free-kick, but the hosts then laid siege to the Bees’ goal and it was remarkable the opening period ended scoreless.

Julian Alvarez twice missed the target before Bernardo Silva planted a header the wrong side of a post from close range.

Manuel Akanji had a good strike from distance tipped over by Flekken and Ruben Dias saw a header pushed away.

Oscar Bobb looked certain to score after skipping around Christian Norgaard, but Ben Mee stretched to clear off the line.

Brentford ended the first half with another chance as an Onyeka header was claimed at full stretch by Ederson and City were surprisingly slow to get going again after the break.

Guardiola tried to enliven proceedings by introducing Jeremy Doku on the hour, but the Bees responded by sending on the abrasive Neal Maupay, who clashed with Kyle Walker in the sides’ recent meeting.

After Foden blazed an attempt well over, it began to look like it might take something special to break the deadlock and that moment duly arrived 19 minutes from time.

Brentford were pushing forward, but their attack was broken up and the ball quickly moved forward, with Rodri finding Alvarez and the Argentinian releasing Haaland.

The Norwegian still had more than half the length of the field to run, but he was quickly into his stride and breezed past a stumbling Kristoffer Ajer before slotting past Flekken from the edge of the area.

The goal was greeted with much relief, but Brentford were not done and Toney shot narrowly over after Dias gave away possession.

City might have had more late on, with Haaland having a header disallowed for offside and Flekken twice saving from Foden.

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has apologised to Kalvin Phillips for saying publicly that he had returned from the Qatar World Cup overweight.

Guardiola made the comment in a press conference in December 2022 having left the City and England midfielder out of a Carabao Cup tie against Liverpool.

Phillips, who joined West Ham on loan in January, earlier this month told the Observer that “after the World Cup was probably the toughest, when Pep came out and said I was overweight”, adding: “I did not disagree with him but obviously I took a big knock on my confidence and how I felt at City.”

Guardiola was asked at a press conference on Monday if he regretted going public about Phillips’ weight, and he said: “Yeah, I’m sorry.

“Once in eight years is not bad. But I’m so sorry. I apologise to him. I do apologise. I’m sorry.”

Phillips said there had been a misunderstanding as to when he was expected to report back and that rather than speaking to Guardiola about that, he “just took it on the chin”.

Guardiola emphasised that he had spoken to Phillips before making the public comment about his weight, saying: “I never, never before I said something here did not speak with the players in that case.”

The manager was talking ahead of Tuesday’s Premier League home clash with Brentford, who City came from behind to beat 3-1 at the Gtech Community Stadium on February 5.

That match saw City defender Kyle Walker respond angrily to something Neal Maupay, the forward on loan with the Bees from Everton, had said to him in the closing stages.

Guardiola said: “I don’t want it but sometimes there is emotions and it happens, and you know that. But this (incident) is forgotten. It happened, I think they talked and that’s all.”

Asked how he dealt with players verbally winding him up during his days on the pitch, the former Barcelona midfielder said: “It depended on my mood!

“Listen, in my period in Barcelona I am in the history for having the record of the most yellow cards conceded. All the time it was for talk, talk, talk.

“So it depends, sometimes I controlled (myself), sometimes (I was) being crazy. People say ‘ah, he cannot control’. As a football player I was the same.”

Tuesday’s fixture is a game in hand for third-placed City over leaders Liverpool and second-placed Arsenal, who the defending champions are four and two points behind respectively.

Guardiola’s treble-winners saw an 11-match winning run in all competitions come to an end with Saturday’s 1-1 league draw with Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium.

Brentford boss Thomas Frank has backed Phil Foden as the England player most likely to be crowned Ballon d’Or winner.

The 23-year-old scored a hat-trick in Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Brentford earlier this month and the Bees manager was wary of a repeat showing ahead of Tuesday’s meeting between the sides at the Etihad Stadium.

Brentford were the last team to beat the defending Premier League champions at their Etihad home, Ivan Toney scoring the late winner in a 2-1 triumph in November 2022.

And they briefly led Pep Guardiola’s side again at the Gtech Stadium 14 days ago before Foden took over to steal the show with three well-taken strikes.

With 15 goals in 35 games so far in all competitions Foden is one short of his best scoring season for City and has featured in all but one of their league games this term.

“He’s a very good player,” said Frank, whose team have lost eight of their last 10 in the league and are 14th, six points above the bottom three.

“For me, he’s the closest England get to potentially having a Ballon d’Or winner in the future. I think he’s got that potential, that level.

“I think he influences the game in so many ways. Last game he got on the end of three situations, scored three goals. He’s very good dribbling, he’s very good sliding people in, works very hard.

“He seems to have a good mentality. I don’t know him personally, but he looks form the outside to have a very good mentality in terms of working hard.

“He is very good, but there are so many good players; (Kevin) De Bruyne, (Erling) Haaland, Rodri, (Jeremy) Doku, (Julian) Alvarez. The whole team.”

Frank predicted his team would need to play “almost the perfect game” if they are to match the heroics of last season – when they also defeated City at home on the final day – but fretted they have been defensively more porous than he would have liked this campaign.

“In general we’re good defensively, don’t give much away,” he said. “But this season we’ve been giving more away than usual. That’s something we’re trying to adjust.”

The meeting on February 5 was marred by a spat between Neal Maupay and City’s Kyle Walker, with the Brentford striker allegedly making personal remarks about the defender’s family.

In an interview with The Times on Sunday, Maupay said he did not believe that his actions had crossed a line.

Frank came to the defence of his player, who has scored five times in his last seven appearances in all competitions.

“All players are different, what gets them to tick, what they think is important for them to perform,” he said. “That I always respect.

“In terms of winding players up, it’s part of the game. It’s a fine line not to cross. If he does that or not, I don’t know. As far as I know Neal is a good guy, a good teammate and he’s very good for us.”

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has stressed he is “more than satisfied” with what he is seeing from his team.

Saturday’s 1-1 Premier League draw with Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium, secured by Rodri’s late equaliser, brought an 11-match winning run in all competitions to an end for City.

The defending champions are third in the table, two points behind second-placed Arsenal and four behind leaders Liverpool ahead of playing their game in hand when hosting Brentford on Tuesday.

Guardiola – whose treble-winners are aiming for a fourth successive league title – told a press conference: “The last five, 10 minutes first half, (and) in the second half, we were in our best level.

“But I know the standards we have, that we create to be there, for what we have done in the past, and I understand completely the doubts for the people but what I am seeing, I’m more than satisfied.

“I’ll give credit to Chelsea, who created problems, not just because in some actions we were not good. But in general when you analyse the game, we were more than decent.

“But I know our standards, and you demand our standards, for what we have done in the past. I know it’s not easy to sustain it. For a long, long, long time we did it.

“We were 11 games winning, and the people say ‘they are not going to lose any other game’. So now, just for one draw…when for 55, 60 minutes, we were who we are.”

Guardiola added: “You demand to us all the time, the only team, because we achieve what we have achieved. We have to live with that. We know that. We know how difficult it is, we know it. It’s you that believes it’s easy, not us.”

And when then asked if people demanding perfection every game was the price of success, he said: “Absolutely – I had experience at my previous clubs, especially Barcelona.

“It’s an honour. Go for it. But no effect – we know what it is and we have to continue doing what we try. It’s normal.

“In the beginning was a lack of consistency, and I said it’s how we behave in many, many things in how we perform and I demand, I’m the first to demand myself, the team do it during in 95 minutes, knowing it’s impossible.

“The reality is since we lost against Aston Villa (on December 6) we didn’t lose one game (in 15), and in the (two) games we drew, we were better.

“Are we going to win the Premier League? I don’t know. But still we are there and this is why we continue.”

Guardiola – who confirmed Jack Grealish (groin) and Josko Gvardiol (ankle) will again be unavailable on Tuesday – was also asked what he thought of Kylian Mbappe as a player, following a report in Spain that one of the Paris St Germain star’s representatives had a meeting with City last week.

And he said with a smile: “I think he’s quite good – he has a future! He’s really, really good.”

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