A month ago, Arsenal were seen as relegation fodder, while Southampton were ranked among the unlikely top four contenders.
It is a testament to the good job Mikel Arteta did to keep his side motivated that when the two sides met in the Premier League on Tuesday night the Gunners managed to pull off a pretty straightforward victory.
In the past, conceding in the first three minutes might have been enough to reduce Arteta’s mentally fragile loads. However, that was not the case on Tuesday. Instead, the Gunners rallied with flying colors, ultimately securing a 3-1 victory.
The credit for such a result should not go to a single man – be it Arteta or a player – because collectively the North Londoners were very strong. Despite this, someone who East Bukayo Saka is worthy of further praise.
Deployed as a right forward, Saka again impressed. Since being moved to the opposite flank by Arteta five games ago, the Gunners’ form has improved significantly. Before the change, Arsenal had won just four of their first 14 games.
Since his trade they are unbeaten, with Saka recording six straight goals in as many games. His last two contributions have also been very impressive. Just before half-time, Saka escaped from Jake Vokins and ran for Alexandre Lacazette’s deep ball. Although he traveled at a ridiculous pace, he showed the speed of thought to get past hurried Alex McCarthy before shooting the ball into the empty net.
After the break he started again, this time returning the favor to Lacazette with tremendous help. Drifting off his marker at the back post, Saka was found by Cedric Soares’ long ball. Without breaking his stride, Saka clung to it before putting an appetizing ball across the box so that Lacazette could make it home.
The goal put the game beyond Southampton’s reach, but it was only the last decisive impact Saka had while operating down the right side.
Of course, it would be too simplistic to reduce Arsenal’s sudden rise in fortunes to changing a player’s role, but his success in the post suggests his long-term future may lie there.
Earlier this season, when deployed as a winger-back, there was a feeling Saka couldn’t influence things enough in the final third. There is little danger in that now and the efficient but attractive performances by the England international have played a significant role in transforming Arsenal’s difficult and predictable approach game.
Considering he’s only been able to legally buy a pint for just under 17 months, that’s downright ridiculous.