Every Arsenal supporter is familiar with the names of Nelson, Willock, Maitland-Niles and Smith Rowe. All have managed to appear in the first team and all are highly regarded, but on a September evening at the Commerzbank-Arena, another emerging star took centre stage. 18-year-old Bukayo Saka came out from the shadows to push his claim for a first team start with an astonishing display which merited him the Man of the Match in almost everyone’s book.
After a slightly sketchy start, the Englishman managed to bewitch and bedazzle Eintracht Frankfurt, on the way to scoring one and being directly involved in another two. As he grew into the game, Bukayo Saka lifted the gloom that has consumed Arsenal in recent weeks for its clumsy and error strewn start.
Doubts about Emery, his team, his training methods and his authority were dispelled rather quickly once the youngster began to show a quality beyond his years, against last year’s semi-finalists in the Europa League.
Arsenal were outstanding on the break and they could have added to their final tally of three goals but on the other hand, they could have surrendered the zero quite easily.
Martinez certainly worked his socks off to keep the prized clean sheet, but it was up the other end where they took the heat off the man between the sticks.
The team was a mixed bag and included the much maligned Shkodran Mustafi, error machine David Luiz, Captain Shambles (Granit Xhaka) and the forgotten man, Callum Chambers. No place for Mesut Ozil, of whom Emery said he needed rest after only playing 71 minutes all season.
However, there were starts for Emile Smith Rowe, Joe Willock and Bukayo Saka which pleased a great many fans. Arsenal played with their normal swagger combined with nerves and on occasions, they could have gone into a state of collapse.
Torriera went close just after 5 minutes, but he saw his effort breeze over the bar. There followed a fairly open game with both sides squandering chances and at one point, it looked ominous that Arsenal would concede because of a right sided weakness and as much as I hate to say it, Chambers is not cut out for the role of right back.
Bukayo Saka started to go through his repertoire around the half hour mark and some neat work from Willock and Saka opened up Frankfurt with the alarm bells ringing. Joe Willock unleashed a right foot shot which was deflected on to the bar and into the back of the net(38).
Willock showed in this game why he is so highly regarded, not just for his quality but for his desire. He looked for the ball, chased and ran into space all night long up until his substitution and Arsenal have found someone who isn’t daunted by the big stage.
1-0 at half time, but Arsenal had somehow forgotten how to control the middle of the park and failed to close down the space. Frankfurt fashioned chances and the gunners assisted by allowing them time, dropping off the ball and not marking tightly. The home side were still in with a shout.
85 minutes in and Saka got his reward. A slick move with Pepe on the right, then a 25-yard curler into the Frankfurt net followed by an obligatory Aubameyang goal (87). It was a case of opportunism and blatant theft as Bukayo Saka (him again) relieved Abraham of the ball, which he slipped through to the Gabonese Striker.
It was a comfortable and flattering night and those that are experienced gooners will appreciate that this result, although uplifting, doesn’t signal the end of the defensive problems, nor does it mean Arsenal are back on track.
Questions about Arsenal remain and it appears, they are no closer to making themselves watertight in defence but while going forward, they looked irresistibly impressive at times.
Bukayo Saka and Joe Willock have a massive future at the North London club and I’ll be surprised if they don’t feature regularly for the England senior squad within a season or so.