Football Features

“Watch out Odegaard!” – Winners & Losers as Saka struts his stuff at St. Mary’s in 1-3 Arsenal win

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:33, 26 January 2021

In an entertaining night of football, Arsenal came from behind to beat Southampton 1-3 at St. Mary’s.

The win moves Arsenal into the top-half of the Premier League table. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Bukayo Saka

Martin Odegaard will soon be arriving at Arsenal to replace Mesut Ozil but there will be many Arsenal fans wondering and arguing if their new signing is even the best left-footed winger-cum-attacking midfielder at the club given the meteoric rise of Bukayo Saka.

The young Englishman burst through last season as a left-winger, then started playing left-back before now finally getting his chance in his best position: right-wing. The youngster took the no. 7 shirt in the summer and watching him at St. Mary’s you can see why no one contested that; this kid has entirely too much sauce.

Saka was torturing Saints all night with his movement and interplay. He moved well both with and without the ball, providing an outlet for passes from the likes of Emile Smith Rowe and Lacazette. He scored the second goal of the game with a nice bit of skill and a smooth finish, that strike turned the contest in Arsenal’s favour and he helped cap things off with a sumptuous assist for Alexandre Lacazette’s third goal.

Bukayo Saka the saucier of Arsenal is going to provide Martin Odegaard stiffer competition for his place in the side than he got at Real Madrid, that’s for sure. Whatever obstacle is put in this kids way gets skipped by with sumptuous ease. Watch out Odegaard, nothing can stop him!

Loser:  Alex McCarthy

In a game as open and end-to-end like this it’s hard to be too hard on any one player but Southampton goalkeeper Alex McCarthy needs a bit of blame for the way the result ended up after he made a fairly small but impactful blunder.

When Bukayo Saka had been played through by Alexandre Lacazette, McCarthy’s starting position was too high up the field but instead of remedying that by getting back on his line he instead pushed up towards Saka – but not full-bloodedly he just sorta shimmied up and then did that gesture where he threw his hands up to say “never touched him.”

 

And this allowed Saka to skip by him and scuff a shot into the back of the net. It was an absurd decision given that Jake Vokins was racing around on the cover and Saka was moving away from goal with the ball on his weaker right foot. Had McCarthy retreated to his line, there’s little chance Saka would have been able to create any danger let alone score the decisive game-deciding goal for Arsenal.

Winner: Alexandre Lacazette

With captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out and Mikel Arteta fielding a young side, Alexandre Lacazette knew it would be up to him to lead from the front. That’s not always the best role for the Frenchman who might wear no. 9 but is really more of a no. 10 (he’s really a 9 1/2 like most French forwards not name Olivier).

But Lacazette did indeed stand tall and drive the Gunners forward, or rather he let the kids drive the team and he held the ball up and played them in whenever he had the chance. With such fluid movement around and ahead of him Lacazette was in his element and the instinctive way he spun and passed for Saka’s goal was absolutely wonderful. His goal was a far-post tap-in and a nice reward for a hard night of work (he dedicated the goal to the convalescing Aubameyang) where he confirmed that he is more than up for the task of leading the line.


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Winner: Rob Holding

Rob Holding is nowhere near the most fashionable name at Arsenal, nor the most vaunted or the one put on “most underrated player!” lists, but he might just be one of their most crucial players given that he is a solid centre-back.

Arsenal have many enigmatic defenders like Gabriel and David Luiz, but as good as those defenders can be they also have a mistake in them. Holding is just relentless solidity, nothing spectacular just gets on with it. Tonight he had his hands full covering for David Luiz who was in a fairly dodgy mood. No Arsenal player made as many clearances as he did (4) as the Englishman was constantly bailing everyone out.

Loser: The Saints full-backs

Ryan Bertrand was suspended for this match having picked up five bookings. And then to make matters worse the cup hero Kyle Walker-Peters also missed the game through injury. Saints have other injuries too but losing their full-backs made such a massive difference to the way Saints both defended and attacked.

Yes they scored but it was from a set-piece and both Yann Valery and Jake Vokins offered nothing like the penetration the starters do. And in defence it was a horror show, with all three Arsenal goals exploiting in some way the reserve full-backs. It was a shame to see them suffer in the way they did, but Ralph Hasenhuttl knows he has a job on his hands if they have to keep on playing (and Valery seems like he might do for a while at least given Walker-Peters’ injury).

Winner: Mikel Arteta

After their FA Cup exit to Southampton at the weekend, Mikel Arteta would have known how important it was that Arsenal won this game, to reassert their primacy after Saints ended their six-match unbeaten run (5 wins 1 draw) and also to beat a top-half side again and indeed, overtake them in the league table.

To that end he sent his side out to press Southampton, to play them at their own game. And a young Arsenal attack revolving around Alexandre Lacazette did just that. The pressing got their equaliser, which was a show of mental strength having fallen behind early. And they continued to go at Saints, targeting the full-backs in a show of ruthlessness and match savvy which all too often eludes them.

There’s still a ways to go, but with Thomas Partey back in the side, Martin Odegaard to come in, Arsenal’s legion of youngsters all playing well at the same time to give him options for actually having a potent subs bench, and the fact that not only are they in the top half of the table but they are now 8th, ahead of both Saints and Chelsea.

Things are finally coming up Arsenal!