Bukayo Saka and Alexandre Lacazette reignite Arsenal's European hopes
After an awful restart, the Gunners have now won three league games in a row following victory at Wolves
If it ranks as the best week of Bukayo Saka’s embryonic career, the same may be said of Mikel Arteta’s brief reign as a manager. Three wins in seven days – or four in 10 – have provided proof the Spaniard has drawn a response after Arsenal’s awful start to their summer fixtures. Saka has brought optimism on and off the field: after signing a new contract on Wednesday, he and Alexandre Lacazette delivered a weekend win for arguably Arsenal’s finest victory under Arteta.
In the process, they reshaped the race for the Champions League places. Wolves had been making up ground, but they lost it again after Leicester City and Manchester United won earlier. They lost their 100 per cent record in summer, along with the distinction as the only side who had not conceded. It is tempting to say they paid for a largely uneventful first half, but that is a trait of Nuno Espirito Santo’s side. This time, however, second-half specialists could not mount a salvage job.
Arteta’s squad is imperfect and imbalanced but they displayed plenty of resolve and executed his gameplan well. Emi Martinez has proved a largely safe pair of hands in the absence of the injured Bernd Leno and if a back three of Shkodran Mustafi, David Luiz and Sead Kolasinac may not sound the most reassuring, they nonetheless kept a clean sheet.
It helped that a side who started without three of their four biggest buys – Mesut Ozil, once again, was not even a substitute – were given a cutting edge by a product of their youth system. Saka did a fine impression of the absent Nicolas Pepe. The club record signing was missing as his wife went into labour. The teenager showed another left footer could turn scorer on the right flank.
Few play as a left-back and right winger in the same season. Still fewer excel in both positions and the teenager showed his attacking capabilities with a well-taken opener. Kieran Tierney’s cross deflected off Matt Doherty and Saka hooked in his half-volley with refreshing crispness. Not since Serge Aurier struck on March 1 had Wolves conceded in the top flight.
They could have struck right at the start. Nuno has a tendency to hold Adama Traore back for a second-half onslaught but he unleashed him from the start. It almost brought an immediate reward with Martinez required to save from the winger inside 15 seconds. Few such gaps materialised in the Arsenal defence later.
Because while Jonny Otto dragged a shot wide, Wolves, not for the first time, were content for periods of play to pass by in the opening period. Arsenal eventually emerged as the more threatening.
Lacazette was omitted so Eddie Nketiah could lead the line and while the youngster was initially feeding on scraps, he almost capitalised on his first opportunity, rattling the post with a snap-shot that Rui Patricio, with an outstretched leg, turned on to the upright. Patricio had also held a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang shot, notable only because it was Arsenal’s first effort and came after 25 minutes. But then came Saka’s goal.
Wolves’ hopes revolved around one man. Traore managed crosses that last week’s matchwinner Leander Dendoncker and a diving Raul Jimenez headed wide. The first time Traore ran at David Luiz, the defender tugged him down to earn a caution; Luiz at least avoided a second summer red card.
Briefly, Arsenal’s defence thought their examination had ended early: Traore started to trot off when Diogo Jota came on only for Wolves to input the correct number instead and remove Dendoncker. Wolves had a third attacking threat when Diogo Jota came on and the replacement released Traore, who chipped over the bar when perhaps he should have scored. When Pedro Neto came on, Wolves had a quartet but it gave Arsenal more opportunity on the break.
They seized it. Nketiah headed over the bar with 13 minutes remaining but Arsenal spent much of the second half on the back foot. Then Arteta’s changes sealed victory. Joe Willock found space on the right and picked out Lacazette. His first touch took him past Conor Coady. His second was a shot that went in via the far post and, for the second successive weekend, Arteta’s substitutes earned an admirable away win.
Updated: July 4, 2020 10:52 PM