Arsenal have strengthened their position at the top of the Premier League table after a comprehensive 4-1 win over managerless Crystal Palace at the Emirates.
The Gunners have widened the gap between themselves and title rivals Manchester City in second to eight points heading into the international break. Pep Guardiola’s men were engaged in an FA Cup quarter-final clash on Saturday, allowing the capital club to extend their cushion.
After a fairly even first half-hour in north London, with Palace striking the woodwork through Wilfried Zaha, Arsenal eventually breached the net of teenage shot-stopper Joe Whitworth. Gabriel Martinelli broke the deadlock 28 minutes in with precision left-footed strike after being picked out by Bukayo Saka.
The prolific England forward would then have his name on the big screen just before the break, doubling Arsenal’s advantage with a crisp finish after collecting an intelligently-picked out and well-weighted pass from Ben White, who himself produced a supreme showing following his England snub earlier this week.
Despite starring for Arsenal this campaign at right-back, the versatile, ball-playing defender was overlooked by Gareth Southgate for the upcoming international break. Almost as a message to The Three Lions boss, White showcased the best of his talents this afternoon, both going forward and defensively.
Ben White's first half by numbers vs. Crystal Palace:
26/29 passes completed
7 passes into final ⅓
3 passes into opp. box
1 through ball
He had more touches inside the opposition box (4) than the entire Palace team (3). ??
— Squawka Live (@Squawka_Live) March 19, 2023
Mikel Arteta’s men weren’t done there, though. After the break, The Gunners remained insatiable and turbo-charged, eventually breaking Palace’s resolve once more through Granit Xhaka just before the hour mark, heaping further misery on stand-in manager Paddy McCarthy.
The caretaker boss was able to enjoy a brief moment of success after Jeffrey Schlupp reduced the deficit in the 63rd minute, but the rare euphoria dissipated less than 10 minutes later after Saka made it 4-1 with his second of the game — and his third direct goal involvement following his assist to Martinelli.
It was a simply breathtaking display from the 21-year-old, who was able to bring up double digits for both goals (12) and assists (10) in the Premier League this season — and by doing so, he subsequently broke Cesc Fabregas’ Arsenal record for being the youngest player to achieve that feat.
Bukayo Saka is the youngest Arsenal player to score 10+ goals and provide 10+ assists in a single Premier League season, breaking @cesc4official's record.
◉ Saka: 21 years old (2022/23)
◎ Cesc: 22 years old (2009/10)
Starboys. ✨ pic.twitter.com/J5Ip5tagvI
— Squawka (@Squawka) March 19, 2023
To add to that, Saka is also the first player in the Premier League this season to achieve double figures for both goals and assists, and the first Arsenal player since Alexis Sanchez in the 2016/17 campaign. The mesmeric No. 7 really is doing the hallowed shirt number proud.
He will take a considerable chunk of the praise, and rightly so, but Arsenal fans were equally taken aback by White’s brilliant performance. The assist to Saka reinforced his refined ball-playing qualities, while his tussle with Zaha underlined a doggedness about his defensive ability.
The connection between Saka and White was near-telepathic at times: rhythmic and fluid. It’s the kind of on-field relationship that could give England a serious level of verve and reliability on the right flank.
The clamour for White’s inclusion in England’s next squad announcement will be even more pronounced, if it wasn’t already.