Southampton vs. Arsenal score: Bukayo Saka inspires comeback win with goal and assist

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Bukayo Saka was Arsenal’s star man as the Gunners fought back from a goal down to earn their fifth win in six Premier League matches with a 3-1 victory at Southampton.

The Gunners had lost 1-0 at St Mary’s on Saturday in the FA Cup fourth round and looked to be in for further difficulties when Stuart Armstrong struck from the edge of the box in the third minute. However, Southampton’s lead did not last long as good pressing and Granit Xhaka’s excellent through ball teed up Nicolas Pepe to crown his return to Arsenal’s Premier League side with a welcome goal.

The remainder of the first half was evenly fought but Saka struck his fifth Premier League goal of the season on an excellent counter following Alexandre Lacazette’s through ball. The youngster turned provider for his No. 9 in the second half, volleying Cedric Soares’ crossfield ball across the face of goal for a decisive third for Arsenal, who have won three league games on the road for the first time in over two years.

Recap the key talking points from the game below:

Young veteran Saka leads the way for Arsenal

Thomas Partey, Kieran Tierney and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang might have a case to argue, but right now there are few others who could convincingly argue that they are more important to Arsenal than Bukayo Saka, the youngster who led by example yet again as they attempted to dig themselves out of an early hole on St Mary’s Stadium.

Credit will go to him for the composure with which he finished his goal, as it should. It so often takes years of experience for forwards to show the composure Saka did to flick the ball past Alex McCarthy and roll the ball into the net, his fifth Premier League goal of the season. That is a tally that no teenager in Europe’s top five leagues can better. Similarly, his movement and first-time cross for Lacazette to score Arsenal’s third. No less impressive was the way he read Jack Stephens’ thoughts and nicked a wayward pass in the build-up.

It was not just that he won possession, but that without taking so much as a touch he flicked the ball toward Partey, who could attack on the front foot, getting Arsenal going in a move that ended with Granit Xhaka’s smart pass teeing up Pepe for the equalizer. Saka’s pass was the act of a veteran, those are increasingly familiar sights from the 19-year-old who seems to have the footballing brain of a man half his age.

That’s evident in the decisive moments that changed the game but also in little flashes, buying a free kick down the right channel in the 43rd minute with smart stepovers that baited a foul when there were few options up alongside them. That that was ultimately chalked off due to an offside perhaps did not negate the point, Saka was again shrewdly playing the moment, a quality so rarely seen in players his age.

Youngsters impress even in Southampton defeat

If this was a frustrating night for Southampton after their impressive win over this team in the FA Cup fourth round over the weekend Ralph Hasenhuttl must surely have known this would be a harder test. Arteta had held key players such as Emile Smith Rowe and Thomas Partey in reserve for the league fixture while the Saints had prioritized the cup game.

Southampton were counting the cost of that win with full-backs Ryan Bertrand (suspension) and Kyle Walker-Peters (injury) unavailable and many of those who did start at the weekend lacking the same zip they showed in the first half when they looked to be Arsenal’s equal. Still those younger players who did enter the fray — and some of those held over from the weekend — did their long-term cause no harm.

It was certainly challenging for full-back pair Sam Vokins and Yann Valery ,but the latter in particular improved significantly in the second period, responding to the threat of Pepe’s darts in behind by marauding ever further forward. Meanwhile Caleb Watts was a tyro after his introduction from the bench in the 74th minute, a smart turn winning James Ward-Prowse a prime spot for a free kick just outside the box.

Most impressive of all might have been Ibrahima Diallo, a dynamo in midfield alongside Ward-Prowse in the engine room. No player on either side recovered possession more than the 10 times he did, the 21-year-old winning all his tackles and aerial battles as well as 62.5% of his duels. In possession he was composure personified, completing 90.9% of his passes in his own half.

Ultimately, those around Diallo perhaps did not have his energy reserves as the Saints faded in the second half but Hasenhuttl can rest assured that he has youngsters who are ready to compete at Premier League level.

Notable performances

Nicolas Pepe: This felt like a crucial game for the $100 million man with Martin Odegaard’s arrival imminent. He delivered not just with a goal but with hard work aplenty, typified by a team-leading seven ball recoveries. RATING: 8

Stuart Armstrong: Like many Southampton players he faded as the game wore on but in the first half his running was direct and dynamic, constantly forcing Hector Bellerin to commit and often blowing by him. RATING: 6

Premier League outlook

Victory for Arsenal takes them to eighth and within five points off fourth-placed West Ham, albeit with all of the clubs between them having played fewer games. Southampton slipped below Arsenal and into 11th in the table.





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