Bring on, Man Utd! Saka-inspired Arsenal can target top four after win at Southampton

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Bukayo Saka Arsenal Southampton
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The teenager was once again the star of the show as Mikel Arteta's resurgent side maintained their fine form with an excellent 3-1 win at St Mary's

Southampton 1-3 Arsenal: Match statistics

It was exactly one month ago that Arsenal lined up against Chelsea on Boxing Day sitting four points off the relegation zone.

Mikel Arteta’s side had suffered eight Premier League defeats in their first 14 games and had endured their worst start to a campaign since 1974-75.

All the talk was of a relegation battle and about how many games Arteta had left to save his job. The Spaniard was beginning to feel like a dead man walking.

But what a difference four weeks makes!

The 3-1 win against Chelsea on Boxing Day has sparked a remarkable revival in north London and now – after this 3-1 at Southampton – Arteta’s side sit eighth, just five points off the top four.

Talk of relegation is long gone. Arteta’s side aren’t looking over their shoulders anymore, they’re looking upwards – fuelled with the enthusiasm of youth given to them by the brilliant Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe.

Saka has now scored four goals in six league games since Boxing Day, with his excellent strike late on in the first half at St Mary’s sending Arsenal into half-time 2-1 in front.

The visitors had fallen behind after just three minutes when Stuart Armstrong was left unmarked to rifle home a fabulous half-volley from James Ward-Prowse’s corner.

But they responded superbly and soon drew level through Nicolas Pepe’s sixth goal of the season before Saka skipped round Alex McCarthy to finish off Alexandre Lacazette’s through ball.

It was the type of turnaround that has epitomised Arsenal’s form since Boxing Day and they went on to put the gloss on another impressive victory with a 10th goal of the season from Lacazette on 72 minutes.

Arsenal Southampton 2021

Again, Saka was at the heart of the move, rolling a perfect cross into the France striker’s path, having been picked out by a wonderful cross-field ball from Cedric Soares.

Arsenal have now won five of their last six Premier League games, with a goalless draw against Crystal Palace the only blot on their copy book since Christmas.

In that time they have scored 14 goals and conceded just two. The improvement at both ends of the pitch has been vast.

The victory against Southampton was the first time this season that they had come from behind to claim three points in the Premier League. It was another indicator of the new-found belief that is now running through Arteta’s side.

And the fact they achieved it without Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was missing once again due to family reasons, and the injured Kieran Tierney made it even more impressive.

Saka was magnificent once again. He may still be a teenager, but he is already one of the leaders in this side.

Arsenal have plenty of exciting young talents on their hands, but none bigger than the 19-year-old, who is rapidly becoming their most important player.

And Arteta will have been delighted by the performance of Pepe, who was handed a start due to the absence of Aubameyang and popped up with the vital equaliser early on.

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For months, Arsenal’s attack had looked toothless, but now there are goals coming from everywhere and the imminent arrival of Martin Odegaard on loan from Real Madrid will only add to Arteta’s options.

The Gunners host league leaders Manchester United on Saturday, a team they’ve already beaten once this season.

Victory in north London and their hopes for a Champions League spot, which seemed a distant dream just four weeks ago, will be very much alive.

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