'Special' Phil Foden bags Man City hat-trick as Arsenal go top with win at Luton

Foden takes centre stage in 4-1 win against Aston Villa as fringe players step up in Arsenal's 2-0 victory over Luton

Phil Foden scored his second hat-trick of the season in Manchester City's 4-1 win at home to Aston Villa. EPA
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Pep Guardiola hailed Phil Foden as a "special" talent after the Manchester City forward bagged a hat-trick in the 4-1 rout of Aston Villa, though it wasn't enough to take City back to the Premier League summit.

City started and finished the day in third place but the win takes them level on 67 points with second-placed Liverpool, who take on bottom club Sheffield United on Thursday. Arsenal's 2-0 victory over Luton Town saw them leapfrog the Reds, though it would be a surprise if Liverpool don't head into the weekend back in top spot.

With Erling Haaland and Kevin de Bruyne dropping to the bench, Foden moved into a central position and orchestrated the demolition of Villa with an outstanding display, playing a hand in Rodri’s opener and then taking the game away from the visitors after Jhon Duran had levelled.

Foden restored City’s lead with a free kick in first-half stoppage time, then won it with two excellent goals just after the hour, the last of them a shot into the top corner after he had lost the ball but quickly regained it.

Foden's treble took him to 21 goals for the season and his manager said their was no limit to what he can achieve.

“What can I say? Three goals,” Guardiola said. “He didn’t start well but I think the goal helped him a lot for the mood. When Phil plays in a central position he has a sense for goals and he proved it again.

“He can do whatever he wants. He’s a real top-class player. We know it. But he is still open-minded, he has to understand the game, he has to focus on things, sometimes he’s a bit distracted in exactly what you have to do offensively, defensively, but he has a natural talent – a gift – which is special.

“The work ethic is unbelievable and he has an incredible sense of goal. When he has the ball and he’s attacking the back line he is going to score, you had that feeling. It is not easy to find it and that’s why he’s so special when he’s playing these central positions.”

De Bruyne and Haaland were not called upon as Guardiola rested them ahead of next week's Champions League trip to Real Madrid, but without them City turned in one of their better performances of the season and a vast improvement on Sunday’s goalless draw against title rivals Arsenal.

Villa remain fourth but the defeat leaves them only two points above Tottenham, who have a game in hand.

Unai Emery was without the injured Ollie Watkins and then also lost goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez to a stomach problem after he had been named in the starting line-up. But the Spaniard chose to make several more changes to his side – six in total from Saturday’s win over Wolves.

“It’s clear we were motivated and excited to try to be competitive, trying to keep it consistent like we are in the Premier League, but of course we were playing against Manchester City,” Emery said.

“We were competing until the 60th minute and as well we were trying to build our team with some players who are not playing a lot, we are trying to give them chances to play.

“Even when we were losing 2-1 we had some chances to score with Douglas Luiz, but they were pushing us a lot, they showed us their potential and they deserved to win."

Arsenal back on top

Mikel Arteta praised his fringe players for stepping up to take Arsenal back to the top of the league with a 2-0 win at home to relegation-threatened Luton.

Captain Martin Odegaard opened the scoring before Daiki Hashioka turned the ball into his own net as 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.

“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. 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 2004.

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.”

Brentford edged a point closer to safety after a 0-0 draw at home to Brighton & Hove Albion.

Thomas Frank's team have now gone eight games without a win, but Luton's defeat to Arsenal means Brentford moved six points clear of the relegation zone.

Updated: April 04, 2024, 4:16 AM