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Arsenal 2 - Standard Liege 2 match report: the Bukayo Saka show, redux

Arsenal’s youngsters impress in an otherwise tepid affair in Belgium.

Hope for the future.
Photo by JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Images

Apparently Arsenal’s identity under Freddie Ljungberg is “play poorly for most of the match, salvage a result with a brief outburst.” The Gunners left things a bit later tonight than they did against West Ham at the weekend, not scoring until the 79th and 81st minutes to dig out a draw at Standard Liege. It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done. With a little help from Vitoria beating Frankfurt, Arsenal win their Europa League group and avoid possibly playing a Champions League dropper in the first knockout round.

Bukayo Saka was the hero for the Gunners, assisting on the first goal and scoring the second. The youngster is putting together a Europa League highlight reel, and we’re totally here for it. His cross to Alexandre Lacazette was inch-perfect, and his goal was a thing of beauty. Since Saka was the hero, best sidekick honors go to Gabriel Martinelli. His energy, workrate, and skill was a much-needed change for the Arsenal attack, and he combined with Saka for the equalizer. Emile Smith Rowe, finally recovered from his laundry-list of injuries and knocks, also had a strong match. Reiss Nelson did not shine quite as brightly as his youthful counterparts, but he put in a few flashy moments.

Those youngsters give me hope for the future at Arsenal. What continues to worry me, however, is the present. Veterans like David Luiz and Sokratis continue to make elemenatary-level defensive mistakes. Alexandre Lacazette was, well...let’s go to Twitter for some analysis.

Lacazette’s stock at Arsenal has plummeted to an all-time low. He was deservedly dropped at the weekend in favor of Martinelli and doesn’t look likely to get his first-team starting place back anytime soon. On the other hand, despite playing poorly, he’s scored in each of his last two appearances, which is what strikers are paid to do.

At the end of it, what matters is that Arsenal did what they needed to do to top their Europa League group. They’ll probably be heavily favored in their first knockout round matchup. The draw takes place this coming Monday, the 16th. The Gunners are next in action on Sunday, playing host to Manchester City.