Adam Wharton does not expect age to be a barrier to his England hopes at Euro 2024 as the midfielder revelled in a "surreal feeling" ahead of the major tournament.

Crystal Palace's Wharton was playing Championship football with Blackburn Rovers until his January move to the Premier League.

The next step on his seismic rise comes this month after making Gareth Southgate's final squad for the upcoming European Championship.

That reward followed after a remarkable second half to the season for Wharton, who is already attracting interest from Europe's elite clubs following his impressive showings for Oliver Glasner's Palace.

Wharton, aged just 20 for this UEFA tournament in Germany, wants to leave his mark and believes chances are there to be taken, despite his relative inexperience compared to his team-mates.

"There are still players that have been in the team for a long time and some top young players in the team... I think it's good to have that little mix," Wharton said on Wednesday.

"If you're good enough, you're old enough.

"It's a surreal feeling. Honestly, I wasn't expecting it. Just a dream come true. Every kid who grows up playing football wants to play in the Premier League, and play for their country.

"I got to play for the team I supported to begin with, really enjoyed that and then it has continued since. Moving to the Premier League, now here, so it's all been very fast but I wouldn't want it any other way.

"I have really enjoyed the last six months and I just want to keep playing, getting better."

Wharton will battle with Declan Rice, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Conor Gallagher and Kobbie Mainoo for a role in Southgate's midfield, while Jude Bellingham remains an option if moved deeper.

That does not concern the 20-year-old, however, as Wharton realises his dreams on the international scene.

"I am just absolutely delighted," he added. "I get to do what I love on the top stage, you can't beat it."

Declan Rice is confident that England can do something really special at Euro 2024 as the team set off for Germany on Monday. 

The Arsenal midfielder was part of the side that fell short in the tournament three years ago against Italy at Wembley, and has since become a mainstay in the side under Gareth Southgate. 

This will be Rice's third international tournament for the Three Lions, and he believes that the current squad have what it takes to lift the trophy in Berlin on July 14. 

“We want to make history,” the 25-year-old said on England’s departure show on YouTube. “We say it all the time, but genuinely we have a group, a manager, that really believes.

“We have a confidence that we can go there and do something really special and, of course, with that comes hard work.

"That is going to be the main thing – the hard work as a team, unity, togetherness and with everyone behind us at home. We’re going to feel that for sure, so stick with us, be positive and let’s see what happens.”

England's preparations for the tournament concluded last week and head into their Group C opener with Serbia off the back of a 1-0 defeat to Iceland at Wembley. 

But Rice says the disappointment does not detract from what was a beneficial 10-day training camp, hoping to build on his impressive debut season with Arsenal. 

“It’s obviously difficult when you finish the league. Your body completely shuts down when you have a break, because we’re made to just play all the time,” 

“When we have a rest, our body shuts down and it’s hard to get going again. But last week was really beneficial, to be honest with you, I think for everyone.

“We’ve got another full week now until the game, so we’ll be in a really good spot.”

Declan Rice insists there are positives England can take from Friday's friendly loss to Iceland, also saying the result should not affect Kobbie Mainoo's chances of partnering him in midfield.

England were booed off as they lost their final Euro 2024 warm-up fixture 1-0 at Wembley Stadium, Jon Thorsteinsson's 12th-minute strike proving decisive.

Gareth Southgate's team managed just one shot on target as Iceland sat deep and invited pressure, with Harry Kane and Ivan Toney both fluffing their lines from promising positions.

It was their fewest shots on target in any game since a goalless draw with Scotland in the group stage at Euro 2020 (also one).

The Three Lions were also criticised for a lethargic performance on that occasion, only to reach the final of that tournament.

While Rice was disappointed with Friday's result, he is sure England will learn from their mistakes in time for Group C fixtures against Serbia, Denmark and Slovenia.

"I think when we have that much of the ball and have a couple of really clear-cut chances, and obviously getting beat 1-0 at home just before a Euros isn't ideal, but I am going to take the positives from it as well," Rice told Channel 4. 

"There were a lot of promising performances tonight. I felt on the pitch we played with a good tempo, always tried to play forward and be attacking and a threat. 

"In the end it becomes a frustrating game because you are chasing your tail a little bit, you're likely to get caught on the counterattack and that is where we have to be a little bit more savvy. 

"Going into a tournament, it is not ideal that we lost, but also there are some good learning curves from tonight that we can build on as a team."

This is the first time England have lost their final game prior to a major international tournament since Euro 1968, when they fell at the first hurdle in a four-team competition after going down to West Germany in their final warm-up fixture.

After losing 1-0 to Brazil in March, they have also failed to score in two of their last three matches at Wembley, as many blanks as they fired in their previous 31 outings at the national stadium.

Rice partnered Manchester United youngster Mainoo in the heart of midfield, and his team-mate came in for some criticism from supporters as the Three Lions were routinely caught out on the counterattack.

Rice, however, remains excited about Mainoo's potential, saying: "We did it in March, and it was really positive.

"I can imagine tonight because we lost tonight some people are saying stuff, but that's football these days. Kobbie's young, I am young, our midfield options are young. 

"We are going to learn every game and that is the beauty of football, that every game you play there is a chance to improve and get better."

Declan Rice deserves to be in contention for the Premier League's Player of the Season award and has proven to be the best signing of the campaign, says former Arsenal midfielder Ray Parlour.

Rice joined Arsenal from West Ham in a £105million deal last July and has had a transformative impact, helping Mikel Arteta's side push Manchester City all the way in the title race.

On Thursday, Rice – alongside Arsenal team-mate Martin Odegaard – was named as one of eight nominees for the Premier League's Player of the Season prize, with the likes of Phil Foden, Erling Haaland and Virgil van Dijk also on the shortlist.

As well as helping Arsenal maintain the Premier League's best defensive record in 2023-24, Rice has carried the ball further than any other player in the competition (7,520m), while only seven players have bettered his 147 carries progressing the ball at least 10 yards upfield.

Parlour says Rice's style reminds him of former Manchester United and England captain Bryan Robson, describing the Gunners man as a true box-to-box midfielder.

Parlour, an ambassador for NetBet, told Stats Perform: "Mark Noble's not too far away from me and I'd always ask, 'Mark, is Declan coming to Arsenal?' He'd always say, 'I don't think you can afford him!' 

"I'm so pleased they stumped up the money and he's been brilliant. I never doubted him really because I know his attitude is very good. He wants to learn, he wants to get better.

"I think with [Thomas] Partey coming in as well, he can get forward a little bit more. He's a little bit more dangerous. He's got a good way of passing, he can probably score more goals if I'm being honest. 

"The way he plays is like the old-fashioned midfielders. I go back to the older era with people like Bryan Robson, where you'd have to go box-to-box, and he can do that. 

"He's got the energy to do that, so I like him to get forward a little bit more, but he's been absolutely superb this year and he's certainly my player of the season."

Defender William Saliba has joined Bukayo Saka in being nominated for Young Player of the Year honours, and Parlour believes the Frenchman is one of several Gunners worthy of recognition.

"There's been a lot of good performances, though. The two centre-backs have stayed fit this year and they've been excellent, Gabriel and Saliba," He added.

"Martin Odegaard has been absolutely brilliant as well, he always wants the ball, his vision is very, very good. 

"But I think Declan has certainly stood out as the signing of the season and then probably player of the season for Arsenal."

Ray Parlour was speaking on behalf of NetBet Sports Betting https://sport.netbet.co.uk

Declan Rice's absence is to blame for a number of heavy West Ham defeats this season, according to manager David Moyes.

West Ham sold captain and influential midfielder Rice to Arsenal last July for a club-record fee rising to £105million with add-ons.

The Hammers have seen results nosedive since the turn of the year, most recently crashing to a 5-0 defeat away at Chelsea on Sunday.

That was the sixth time West Ham have conceded four or more goals away from home this season, and their fifth loss in six away games overall.

Asked at his post-match press conference exactly why his side are on the end of heavy losses so frequently of late, Moyes said: "Declan Rice."

The Scotsman, due to be out of contract next month, added: "You get the best midfield player in the country, protecting, making sure the moments and times you limit maybe 50 per cent of the attacks.

"It makes you a much better defensive team when you get that. We've lacked protection in front of the back four; we've lacked good enough defending; we've not been good enough on those things in many games.

"You've got to be careful. You're talking about a team sitting in a really, really strong position. We've had a couple of bad days away from home, which we have to try and eradicate and make better.

"I'm trying to put a bit of mental toughness when we need it. The teams I normally prepare would normally have it. You could always lose the way you lose."

West Ham have won just one of their past nine Premier League games, seeing them slip down to ninth place and now out of the top-six running.

United have also failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their past 16 in the competition - only the second time they have done so in a single Premier League season.

The poor run of form, which also includes elimination from the Europa League at the hands of a strong Bayer Leverkusen side, has raised doubts over Moyes' future at London Stadium.

Amid suggestions that former Real Madrid and Spain boss Julen Lopetegui has already been lined up, Moyes reiterated he will wait until after the season to hold talks over his future.

"I'm going to talk to the board at the end of the season, so we’ll do that then," he said.

Mikel Arteta lauded the consistency of Bukayo Saka and his increased hunger to win after Saturday's routine 3-0 victory over Bournemouth at Etihad Stadium.

The Gunners swept aside Bournemouth as Saka's penalty opened the scoring before late second-half finishes from Leandro Trossard and Declan Rice sealed another much-needed victory.

With two games to spare, Arsenal have equalled their Premier League win tally from last season (26), only in 1930-31 (28) and 1970-71 (29) have the Gunners won more games in a single top-flight campaign.

That is in large part thanks to Saka, who became the first player to score 20 goals for Arsenal in a season (all competitions) since Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in 2019-20 (29 goals).

He is also the first Englishman to do so for the club since Theo Walcott in 2012-13 (21 goals) and Arteta was quick to praise star winger Saka.

"The level of consistency compared to last year is very similar," the Arsenal manager said at his post-match press conference. 

"There are areas he's better in. I see a different edge to him in the way he competes. He loves winning more than three months ago."

Kai Haverz won Saka's first-half penalty, though Bournemouth may feel the Arsenal forward triggered contact with goalkeeper Mark Travers.

The Cherries also had a goal disallowed at 2-0 down when Dominic Solanke was adjudged to have fouled David Raya before Antoine Semenyo turned into an empty net.

A lengthy VAR check followed both decisions but Arteta refused to comment on either incident, suggesting he had not seen them back yet.

"The honest answer is I haven't seen any of the incidents because I knew you were going to ask me," he added.

"They said do you want to see it and I said no so I can give you an honest answer!"

All 10 of Arsenal’s outfield starters attempted at least one shot in this game, the first time this has happened in a Premier League game for the Gunners since January 2022 against Burnley.

Gabriel Magalhaes almost got in the act but his strike was ruled out late on for offside, before Rice managed to add gloss to a dominant performance.

Rice was playing for West Ham last season as Arsenal capitulated in the title race against Man City, though the England international is hoping for a different outcome this time around.

"I wasn't here last year but I can sense that we are embracing it," the Arsenal midfielder told TNT Sports as Man City prepare to host Wolves later on Saturday.

"Man City are a machine and they don't lose many. Anything can happen in football. Surprises can happen and miracles can happen and we just have to stay focused."

Arsenal will continue to go about their business in hope of Man City slipping up, the Gunners have won 14 of their 16 Premier League games in 2024 (D1 L1), scoring 51 goals and conceding just eight in reply.

Indeed, the Gunners have won the most points in the competition since the turn of the year (43), but Arteta's side remain reliant on favours from elsewhere in the title race.

Arsenal put the pressure back onto Manchester City in the Premier League title race after their comprehensive 3-0 triumph over Bournemouth at Emirates Stadium.

Mikel Arteta's side moved four points clear at the league summit with this victory but Man City have two games in hand, the first of which comes at home to Wolves later on Saturday.

Bukayo Saka opened the scoring from the penalty spot on the stroke of half-time, with Arsenal securing a deserved reward for their first-half dominance.

Leandro Trossard and Declan Rice made sure of three points with late finishes as defeat left Bournemouth – who had an Antoine Semenyo strike ruled out in the closing stages – 10th in the table.

A flowing Arsenal move almost ended in Trossard converting Ben White's 10th-minute cross, only for a last-gasp Marcos Senesi block to thwart the Belgium forward.

Bournemouth had Mark Travers to thank soon after as the goalkeeper denied fizzing efforts from Kai Havertz and Saka, as well as a one-on-one with William Saliba.

Travers' one-man resistance continued when pushing away Thomas Partey's low left-footed curling attempt before Rice fired narrowly wide following Havertz's delicate header.

Yet Arsenal finally got their breakthrough as Travers felled the marauding Havertz – with the VAR confirming the spot-kick decision – before Saka coolly swept into the bottom-left corner from 12 yards.

Saka should have doubled his tally after the interval but arrowed a glorious opportunity straight at Travers following a smart offload from Havertz, who went close minutes later.

The otherwise unneeded David Raya was forced into action at the other end to deny Dominic Solanke after 53 minutes, while Justin Kluivert whipped a free-kick just over.

That spell of Bournemouth pressure came to an abrupt end with 20 minutes to go when Rice twisted to play through for Trossard, who slotted a smart right-footed finish into the bottom-right corner.

The Cherries thought they had snatched a goal back just three minutes later but Semenyo's rebounded strike after Ryan Christie hit the crossbar was ruled out for a Solanke foul on Raya, with the VAR confirming the on-field decision.

Arsenal then suffered a similar fate with the officials as Gabriel Magalhaes' rocketed volley was disallowed for offside, but Rice was not to be denied in stoppage-time as he fired Gabriel Jesus' throughball under the helpless Travers.

Advantage Arsenal thanks to super Saka

Arsenal have won 14 of their 16 Premier League games so far in 2024, dropping points only against Man City (0-0) and Aston Villa (0-2) this year.

That incredible run of form ensures a tantalising title race will continue towards the final two games of the season, when Arsenal travel to Manchester United and then host Everton on the last day.

Their success this term can be somewhat apportioned to star winger Saka, who became the first player to score 20 goals for Arsenal in a season across all competitions since Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in 2019-20 (29 goals).

Saka is also the first Englishman to do so for the club since Theo Walcott in 2012-13 (21 goals) as the England international continues to deliver in key moments for the Gunners.

Cherries blunted by dominant Gunners

Bournemouth had won 1-0 at Wolves and 3-0 against Brighton in their last two Premier League games before this – but they have never triumphed in three consecutive top-flight games without conceding.

A wait for three straight such victories will go on into next season, though Andoni Iraola will look back on this campaign with fond memories.

They have never won more matches in a top-flight season than their 13 in 2023-24 (also 13 in 2018-19) and – despite this underwhelming performance – will have another chance to set an outright club record when they host Brentford before visiting Chelsea on the final day, with a top-half finish still possible.

Jamaica international and Manchester City striker Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw has achieved another remarkable feat in a dazzling career that has left her heat filled with pride and gratitude.

The 26-year-old, whose journey from humble beginnings in Spanish Town, St Catherine to stardom for both club and country, has been nothing short of triumph of talent and tenacity, and copping the Footballer Writers' Association's (FWA) Women’s Footballer of the Year for 2023-24, is another testament of her unwavering determination and indomitable spirit to rise above challenges.

Shaw won the women’s Footballer of the Year award with almost 80 per cent of the voters opting for either the Manchester City striker or Chelsea’s Lauren James.

James finished runner-up with another Manchester City standout Alex Greenwood finishing third. Yui Hasegawa, Elisabeth Terland and Khiara Keating completed the top six.

The prolific Shaw scored 21 goals and got three assists in 18 Women’s Super League (WSL) games for her side who are on the brink of securing their first WSL title since 2016.

“I am very proud and privileged to have received this award and to be recognised in this way is a special honour," Shaw, who recently did a season-ending surgery for a broken leg, said in a statement.

"I want to also thank all of my teammates. They provide me with the chances to score goals and I could not have won this award without them. I also owe a lot to Gareth [Taylor], the rest of the coaching team and everyone else here at City. It’s a pleasure to be part of such a special group.

“Many thanks to all who voted for me and to my fellow nominees. It means such a lot to have won this award. Hopefully the side can now finish off the season in style and give everyone special cause to celebrate,” she added

Meanwhile, another Manchester City stalwart, Phil Foden, copped the Male Player of the Year award.

Foden has enjoyed a fantastic campaign with Manchester City, scoring 24 goals in all competitions so far. He garnered more than 42 per cent of the votes with teammate Rodri, and Arsenal's Declan Rice, named as runners-up.

"Being named the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year is a huge honour. I’m very, very happy to receive this award but I could not have done it without the help of my teammates. We have a very special squad of players at City, and I’m privileged to be a part of that group. I want to thank all my team-mates as well as Pep and the coaches for all the support and advice they have given me," Foden said in his statement.
 
"I strive to be the best that I can be every single day and that is all down to the way the manager and my colleagues always seek to improve and get better. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who voted for me as well as my fellow nominees. I’m immensely proud to have won this award. Now I am focused on seeking to finish the season as strongly as possible and to try to help City win more trophies," he noted.

It is the second time that two City players have won the men’s and women’s awards. Raheem Sterling and Nikita Parris picked up the prizes in 2019.

Mauricio Pochettino believes it is unfair to compare the impact of Enzo Fernandez at Chelsea to that of Arsenal’s Declan Rice, as the teams prepare to face each other at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday.

England international Rice joined Mikel Arteta’s side from West Ham last summer for £100million, less than the £107m it cost to take World Cup winner Fernandez from Benfica to Stamford Bridge in January 2023.

The fee for the Argentinian was a British record at the time, though the club have since surpassed it in signing fellow midfielder Moises Caicedo from Brighton for £115m.

Rice has won plaudits for his transformational effect on Arsenal’s midfield, helping to forge a sturdier, more cohesive side than the one that fell away in the final weeks of last season’s Premier League title race.

By contrast, Chelsea’s league position has not markedly improved in the 15 months since Fernandez arrived in west London, and despite clear flashes of his obvious talent and range of passing, question marks have remained over whether the club got value for money.

However, his countryman Pochettino called for perspective on the obstacles that his player has had to contend with since arriving in England.

“Declan Rice was playing for West Ham, an English guy who knows the Premier League, knows the language,” said the 52-year-old.

“For Enzo, after the World Cup to arrive here, in a team that was inconsistent, difficult to get positive results, always it was really difficult.

“In summer he was involved in too many games and he arrived late in pre-season, hasn’t had a holiday in the last two years.

“Too many negative things happened. (It was) difficult for him to adapt, his family. It’s not easy to adapt and perform so quick.”

Fernandez was responsible for creating Chelsea’s best chance of Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester City, hitting an incisive, raking pass from deep that sent Nicolas Jackson through on goal, but the striker could not finish.

He has scored three Premier League goals and made four assists since moving from Portugal in the immediate aftermath of Argentina’s 2022 World Cup triumph, but Pochettino insisted the best is yet to come from the 23-year-old.

“For sure he is going to be much better next season, after the experience of the whole season in this squad and this team,” he said.

“He’s more experienced, he gets better feelings. The whole season is good for him to learn. Even if he is a world champion, he needs to adapt to the Premier League and to this club. For me, there is no doubt that he is going to be much better.”

Pochettino said there have been no discussions over the future of striker Romelu Lukaku, currently on a season-long loan at Roma, but appeared to hint that the door could be open for a return.

The 30-year-old has scored 18 goals for the Serie A side this campaign after telling Chelsea last summer that he wanted to leave.

“He’s a Chelsea player, so for sure we will pay attention,” said Pochettino. “It’s an option. But still we did not take any decision.”

Arsenal’s form in April looks like costing them dearly again this season after they exited the Champions League and fell behind in the title race.

After costly defeats to Aston Villa and Bayern Munich, the PA news agency looks at the Gunners’ recurring failings at this time of year.

Same old story

Manager Mikel Arteta backed his side to “write our story very differently” against Bayern and had previously called on them to recreate the aura of the 2003-04 “Invincibles”, who won the league without losing a game.

They may instead be following the pattern of Arsenal teams since then who have narrowly missed out on success, particularly last season when they began April eight points clear.

They maintained that margin by beating Leeds on April 1 but drew their next three games and then lost to eventual champions Manchester City as they finished five points behind.

Consecutive league defeats to Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton in April 2022 contributed to Arsenal missing out on the Champions League.

This season, they were top after beating the Seagulls but defeat to Villa left them two points behind City. That was sandwiched between the two legs of the Bayern tie, a 2-2 draw at home and Wednesday night’s 1-0 defeat in Germany, leaving them needing to end a three-game winless run when they face Wolves on Saturday.

It is not a new phenomenon either – as far back as 2007-08, Arsenal finished four points off the top after winning only one of eight games from February 23 to April 13.

They took one point from four games in the run-in to end their 2009-10 title challenge and five from the final six games in 2010-11 to finish down in fourth, and winning their final five games in 2013-14 was not enough after they took two points from the previous four. They were top of the league for more days that season than any other team, as was the case last year with a record 248.

Same old faces

The PA news agency understands there are some concerns within Arsenal over tiredness and fatigue taking their toll on the players, and their playing time paints a stark picture.

Eight of Wednesday night’s starting XI – David Raya, Ben White, Gabriel, William Saliba, Declan Rice, captain Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka and Kai Havertz – have played over 3,000 minutes in all competitions this season.

Those figures exclude stoppage-time and are already more than for either of the previous two campaigns, with six league games still to play.

White, Gabriel, Odegaard and Saka have all hit that threshold in each of the last three seasons for totals in excess of 10,000, with Gabriel leading the way at 11,220. His emergence with Brazil means all bar White are now also regulars for their respective countries.

Gabriel Martinelli could yet add a ninth name to this season’s list and Arteta must work out a way to keep his star men fresh and avoid their now traditional springtime slump.

Declan Rice believes a Champions League quarter-final clash with Bayern Munich is the “perfect” game for Arsenal to overcome defeat to Aston Villa.

The Gunners were deservedly beaten 2-0 by Unai Emery’s men at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday afternoon as Leon Bailey and Ollie Watkins scored the goals to boost Villa’s top-four hopes.

Arsenal would have returned to the Premier League summit with a win but now sit second, two points behind reigning champions Manchester City.

There is no time for Mikel Arteta’s players to lick their wounds, however, as they travel to Germany for the second leg of their finely-poised Champions League quarter-final against Bayern.

A 2-2 draw in north London last week leaves the tie on a knife-edge and Rice feels such a big game is just what Arsenal need after a rare slip-up.

“It’s the perfect game for a reaction,” he said.

“We need a reaction on Wednesday night and it is a great chance to show our character and leadership. It’s time to go out there and hopefully get into the semi-finals of the Champions League.

“We have to park this to the side now. It’s gone, it’s a game of football. We’ve lost but we need to bounce back, that’s for sure.

“Going to the Allianz Arena, it’s going to be a special night. It’s time to pull our socks up and show everyone why we’re in this position.

“We’re gutted and disappointed we’ve lost a massive game but, it’s time for a reaction. We’ve been on such an amazing run since January, won so many football matches and got ourselves back into an unbelievable position after being written off at Christmas.”

This was former Arsenal boss Emery’s first trip back to the Emirates Stadium as Villa manager and the Spaniard severely dented the title charge of his old club.

Villa had already hit the woodwork through both Watkins and Youri Tielemans before substitute Bailey tapped home to break the deadlock late on.

With the hosts pushing for an equaliser, Watkins raced from his own half to latch onto a long ball and double the lead with a deft finish.

The win means fourth-placed Villa opened up a three-point gap on Tottenham in the battle for what looks like being the final Champions League place.

Like Arsenal, they now turn their attention to Europe as they prepare for the second leg of their Europa Conference League quarter-final with Lille, having won the home leg 2-1.

“I definitely will take confidence from it and I think the team should take a lot of confidence from this game as well,” Bailey said of the victory at Arsenal.

“The way we played, coming to the Emirates – I think the way we set out was so strong and I think the team really didn’t give up too much and we created opportunities at the same time.

“I think from this, we should really take this game into consideration and give ourselves a lot of confidence moving forward.”

Mikel Arteta hailed Arsenal’s fringe players for taking their chances in the 2-0 Premier League victory over Luton.

Captain Martin Odegaard opened the scoring before Daiki Hashioka turned the ball into his own net as Arsenal returned to the top of the table, holding a one-point advantage over Liverpool and Manchester City.

Arsenal had just three days to prepare for Wednesday night’s game after Sunday’s goalless draw at title rivals City.

Arteta made five changes for the visit of the Hatters, including the likes of Emile Smith Rowe and Reiss Nelson while resting Declan Rice among others, and was pleased with what he saw in their first of eight scheduled fixtures in April.

“They responded really well and I’m so happy with that. It was a wonderful game,” Arteta said.

“When they get their moment, they have to take it and they certainly did today. They give me every reason (to pick them) every day.

“If we had lost the game it would’ve been because we made the changes and it’s not as simple as that. You have to do what is right, what they deserve and it’s good confidence.”

With Bukayo Saka injured, Smith Rowe impressed after he was recalled to the XI.

Arteta said: “I love him as a player (Smith Rowe). It’s a joy to watch him with the way he moves and how physical he is as well. He helped us a lot to win the game also today.”

Odegaard was the difference between the sides on the night. The Norwegian combined with Kai Havertz after 24 minutes before rifling an effort into Thomas Kaminski’s bottom left corner.

Arteta talked up the skipper’s influence in helping his side try and claim their first league title since the 2003-04 season.

The Spaniard added: “He’s a really important player and we needed that balance and the chemistry certain players have and how they train, build relationships, Martin is vital to connect. The standard which he sets is outstanding.”

Luton manager Rob Edwards still believes his side can get out of trouble, with the Hatters 18th and three points behind fourth-bottom Nottingham Forest.

Edwards said: “I believe we can do this, with every fibre of my being I believe in this group. We are competing in this league, we have had a lot of injuries and it has knocked our rhythm. We’re in the games we’re playing. We weren’t out of it.”

David Raya admitted it was a “great feeling” to help Arsenal into the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in 14 years.

Goalkeeper Raya was Arsenal’s hero with two penalty saves as they won a shoot-out against Porto 4-2.

Leandro Trossard’s goal four minutes before half-time levelled the tie at 1-1 on aggregate.

Extra time could not separate the sides and in the shoot-out, Martin Odegaard and Kai Havertz buried their penalties before Raya tipped Wendell’s spot-kick on to his left-hand post.

Bukayo Saka and Declan Rice then converted and Raya made another fine save from Wenderson Galeno to send the Gunners through.

“Obviously it’s a great feeling especially for me personally, my first time in the Champions League and the first time in a long time club has got to the quarter-finals,” the Spaniard told TNT Sports.

“We’ve been working a lot on penalties this year because on a night like this you need to be good and the hard work has paid off. It’s a great night.

“I should have saved three, but I’m over the moon to save two and get through to the quarter-finals.

“Porto made it so difficult over there and here. But we scored the goal that we needed and it went to penalties. Obviously mentally it’s tough but the team played really, really well, we kept a clean sheet, scored the goal and went to penalties.

“It means everything, You play football for these kind of nights. Over the moon and I’m going to celebrate and enjoy the night.”

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.

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