Bukayo Saka in focus: Arsenal go back to the future with rising star

Amarachi Orie takes an in-depth look at the teen sensation’s contribution to a winning performance over West Brom that evoked memories of vintage Gunners and started their 2021 with a bang.

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It’s been a happy new year so far at least for Arsenal after wonderkid Bukayo Saka inspired them to a 4-0 victory over West Brom at the Hawthorns on Saturday. The Gunners have made a tremendous return to form since Christmas and, with young players the driving force of Mikel Arteta’s team, that has showed no sign of slowing down in 2021.

But it’s 19-year-old Saka who has been the standout performer so far. After sustaining a minor injury at the AMEX stadium earlier in the week, he made a quick recovery to aid his team once again. Come rain or shine – or, in this case, snow – Saka is always ready to support his team. Although another teen was forced to miss out as Gabriel Martinelli was left on the bench to allow Arteta to play experienced Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the left and Alexandre Lacazette up front.

The Gunners started the match on the front foot and, within the first 20 minutes, Saka had ambitiously curled two balls into the box for Aubameyang to get on the end of, but he failed to do so. It proved to be an unproductive afternoon for the 31-year-old whose desire to score did not match that of the energetic Saka as he took corners, won balls back for his team, and made attempts at goal.

Thankfully, the England winger’s hunger was matched by 23-year-old left-back Kieran Tierney. The Scot proved that attack is the best form of defence as he charged down the left flank with more intent, more drive, and posed a greater threat than Aubameyang. After a fearless run into the box, Tierney gave the Gunners a well-deserved lead with a stunning solo strike in the 23rd minute.

Saka’s repositioning, from playing on the left to now playing on the right, has allowed Tierney to push forward a lot more, while he dominates the right flank.

Yet, the teen stands out because he makes runs all over the pitch and creatively connects team-mates, which was evident again on Saturday as he linked up seamlessly with Hector Bellerin, Emile Smith Rowe and Tierney. It was this fluidity that saw Saka double their lead five minutes later.

From Smith Rowe to Saka to Lacazette to Smith Rowe to Saka and into the goal. This is the type of passing play that Arsenal are renowned for and most effective at, passing unselfishly until they reach the target. Here, they did it with such ease and such pace that they were formidable – and Saka was at the centre of it. 

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West Brom tried to get back into the game early in the second half but the Arsenal youngster would not allow it. It was Saka’s cross that eventually resulted in their third goal from Lacazette in the 60th minute and, four minutes later, he dispossessed Callum Robinson allowing Arsenal to bomb forward and the 29-year-old to net his second. Lacazette’s now scored five goals in four consecutive games and has a strong midfield to thank for that. Saka was substituted in the 71st minute but it did not matter – the damage had been done.

Sam Allardyce’s West Brom have conceded nine goals in two matches and scored none. It is now comical to think he once considered Arsenal to be the Baggies’ relegation rivals. Saka ensured 15 points now separate 11th-placed Arsenal from West Brom in 19th. Allardyce had called for the league to have a circuit breaker due to growing Covid-19 fears but there will be no respite for his team. Arsenal, however, are gaining momentum and with so many talented youngsters at Arteta’s disposal, they can only get stronger throughout the year.

Follow Amarachi on Twitter @iamarachii

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