Wayne Rooney powered his side to a title at just 21: Bukayo Saka can do the same
By Jason Burt at the Emirates Stadium
When was the last time a Premier League club was driven to the title by a 21-year-old? Wayne Rooney won the first of his five when he was that tender age at Manchester United.
But at that point in his stellar career, with Cristiano Ronaldo alongside him, he was not quite as fundamental to the team as Bukayo Saka is to Arsenal even if Rooney did make the most appearances for United in that campaign.
The comparison is a fair one as two goals and another assist for Saka extended Arsenal’s advantage at the top to eight points over Manchester City, who have a game in hand, entering the international break.
There is now just 10 matches to go, and no other distractions, for Arsenal in their quest for a first title since 2004 – when Saka was still not even three years old – and so the finishing line gets tantalisingly closer and closer with City still in the Champions League and FA Cup.
There will be those who, understandably, point to the classy influence of captain Martin Odegaard or the transformative effect of Oleksandr Zinchenko in driving Arsenal towards this most unlikely of triumphs but, make no mistake, it is Saka who is their main man; who is their undisputed ‘Starboy’.
When he announced his England squad last week Gareth Southgate said that he smiles at the mere mention of Saka’s name and the outstanding winger certainly has that effect for his club as well as his country.
Indeed Bukayo means “adds to happiness” in Yoruba, one of the main languages spoken in Nigeria, and there could not be a more apt name for this smiling assassin who now has 12 league goals and 10 assists and is the first player to reach double figures in both those charts this season.
If there was a vote for footballer of the year held today then he would surely win it, which is all the more remarkable given Erling Haaland’s 41 goals – so far – this season for City.
It will probably come down to which club claims the title and with six wins in a row since losing to City – with 19 goals scored and five conceded – Arsenal are showing the resilience to go all the way.
They have to go to the Etihad, they have to go to Liverpool, they have to go to Newcastle United but they are showing the kind of belief, all the more noteworthy given they are such a young team, that suggests they might just do it - even though they have that sky blue juggernaut with Haaland at the wheel in their rear view mirror. There is no let-up.
Saka is at the vanguard which is all the more impressive given he plays at the sharp end, is often the recipient of some hefty challenges and fouls, and appears in every game. He is targeted but few can actually nail him. Sleep, Saka said, is something that can wait until the summer although he has the Arsenal fans dreaming.
Once they felt the points were secured those gleeful supporters baited Crystal Palace with a chorus of “Patrick Vieira” with the former midfielder having, of course, captained the ‘Invincibles’ who won that last league title in 2004.
In fairness to Palace they showed far more attacking threat than they did under their now sacked manager with caretaker Paddy McCarthy in charge before a temporary appointment, probably that of 75-year-old Roy Hodgson, is made until the end of the campaign.
On this evidence, though, Palace could do worse than sticking with McCarthy, the Under-21 coach, but the reality is it is one win in 17 and four straight defeats. They remain in 12th place but that is a false comfort. After a decade in the top-flight the threat of relegation looms larger and larger and can they entrust their fate on a rookie? West Ham, in 18th place, are just three points behind and have two games over Palace.
If the story is all about Arsenal and Saka then it could, however, have been different had Palace’s own talisman, Wilfried Zaha, taken the chances that fell his way. It was surely telling, though, that Saka claimed the second of his goals to end any doubt just as Palace threatened an unlikely comeback after scoring their first goal for a month. But that is what the best players do.
The convincing win also helped Arsenal get over the disappointment of exiting the Europa League, after a penalty shoot-out, to Sporting last Thursday. This was the perfect response and there was no sign of fatigue or a hangover although there will be a pang of concern from manager Mikel Arteta, with Takehiro Tomiyasu and William Saliba already out injured, now that players head around the world to feature for their national teams.
After Zaha struck a post, Arsenal struck. Defensively it was poor as Saka’s cross ran to Gabriel Martinelli who easily beat third-choice goalkeeper Joseph Whitworth with an angled shot. By half-time Arsenal had gone for the jugular with Saka timing that ‘outside-to-in-run’ to perfection, meeting Ben White’s pass and bending the ball low around Whitworth.
The third came after Granit Xhaka exchanged passes with Leandro Trossard before Jeffrey Schlupp scored from a corner. Zaha fashioned two more chances but, fittingly, Saka had the final significant contribution with an accomplished first-time finish as he swept the ball home. It summed up Arsenal’s assuredness and the broad grin across Saka’s face said it all.
Arsenal vs Crystal Palace: As it happened. . .
Jason Burt's match report
will now appear above. Thanks for following this one with us.
FA Cup draw
Brighton vs Man United or Fulham
Man City vs Sheffield United
22nd and 23rd April
Arsenal fan reaction
A bit thin at the back, but so many fresh attacking options and it feels like there are goals in the team. Gives you a chance. Holding and Gabriel need to find a balance because both want to attack the ball, but it was enough today.
— Daniel Zeqiri (@ZeqiriDan) March 19, 2023
Here are your Opta match facts
Arsenal earned their 22nd Premier League win of the season, as many as they managed in the whole of last term, and the Gunners’ most ever wins in their first 28 matches of a league campaign.
Crystal Palace remain one of only two sides yet to win a league match in England’s top four tiers in 2023 (P12 W0 D5 L7), along with League One’s Forest Green.
Crystal Palace have lost four consecutive Premier League games for the first time since July 2020 (run of 7).
Arsenal are the first side in English Football League history to win as many as nine London derbies in a single league season.
Crystal Palace’s Paddy McCarthy was the eighth manager from Republic of Ireland to take charge in the Premier League, with seven of those now losing their first such game in the competition, the exception being Roy Keane with Sunderland in August 2007 (1-0 win v Spurs).
Bukayo Saka (12 goals, 10 assists) became the first player to reach both 10+ goals and 10+ assists in the Premier League this season. He is the first Arsenal player to reach double figures for both in a Premier League campaign since Alexis Sánchez in 2016-17 (24 goals, 10 assists), and only the second Englishman to do so for the Gunners, after Theo Walcott in 2012-13 (14 goals, 10 assists).
Bukayo Saka provided his 25th Premier League assist, aged 21 years and 195 days; only Cesc Fàbregas (20y 134d), Wayne Rooney (21y 63d) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (21y 140d) reached 25 assists at a younger age in the competition.
Leandro Trossard has assisted six goals in 10 Premier League games for Arsenal, at least twice as many as any other player in the competition since his club debut in January. It’s also more assists than the Belgian provided in 50 Premier League appearances for Brighton since the start of last season (5).
Full time: Arsenal 4 Crystal Palace 1
Arsenal were excellent. Well worth this handsome victory. They will go into the international break with an eight point lead over Man City, albeit having played a game more.
88 mins: Arsenal 4 Crystal Palace 1
Zaha having a frustrating afternoon. He is moaning at the ref and has also been going down a bit.
Comes forward now and tries a shot.
85 mins: Arsenal 4 Crystal Palace 1
A smorgasbord of subs. Emile Smith Rowe on for Gabriel Martinelli. Jorginho for Ben White, who was excellent in the first half.
For CPFC, Eberechi Eze for Jeffrey Schlupp and Naouirou Ahamada for Michael Olise.
78 mins: Arsenal 4 Crystal Palace 1
Arsenal enjoying themselves.
GOAL! Arsenal 4 Crystal Palace 1 (Saka 74)
Hope extinguished! Poor old Palace. Any thoughts that they might make a game of it in the last 20 have been cruelly snuffed out by a brilliant Arsenal side.
Kieran Tierney's got down the side, pulled the ball back to around the penalty spot and Bukayo Saka slots it away for his second.
A brief VAR check to see if Jesus was offside/interfering with play but the goal is legit and the only question now is whether Arsenal can buff their goal difference.
Sam Dean: "I was just about to say... wonder if Arsenal's exploits on Thursday night (extra time and penalties against Sporting in the Europa League) were starting to take their toll on Arteta's players. It had all become rather sloppy and sluggish. And then Saka made it four. Game over."
70 mins: Arsenal 3 Crystal Palace 1
Now then Crystal Palace! They are very close to the second - Ramsdale with a poor clearance, Palace get it and play it to Zaha who drags his effort narrowly wide from a narrow angle. Close!
65 mins: Arsenal 3 Crystal Palace 1
Gabriel Jesus and Kieran Tierney on for Arsenal.
Jordan Ayew and Will Hughes for Palace.
Jesus into the fray right away, heading wide from a corner.
GOAL! Arsenal 3 Crystal Palace 1 (Schlupp 63)
But what's this?! Olise delivers a ball in, it hits Schlupp, who reacts quickest in a crowd scene, and he has put the ball in the net. Out of the blue you have to say but that might spark some sort of fightback, perhaps.
60 mins: Arsenal 3 Crystal Palace 0
Hard to see a way back for Palace now, surely.
GOAL! Arsenal 3 Crystal Palace 0 (Xhaka 55)
That's it! GSM to the Gunners. Trossard slips the ball in behind for Granit Xhaka who tucks it away without fuss.
53 mins: Arsenal 2 Crystal Palace 0
Wilfried Zaha into the Arsenal box. Challenged by Bukayo Saka. Wilf goes down but no pen.
Sam Dean writes: "Difficult day for the Palace players, this. They have had to do a lot of chasing of the ball, and it must be harder to really motivate yourself when you know the coach on the touchline is almost certainly not going to be the manager for very long."
48 mins: Arsenal 2 Crystal Palace 0
Bukayo Saka goes past Tyrick Mitchell. Crosses. Joel Ward clears.
47 mins: Arsenal 2 Crystal Palace 0
It's more than four games since CPFC scored a League goal.
46 mins: Arsenal 2 Crystal Palace 0
Second half coming up. Palace tend to do well in the second half of games but Arsenal have a magnificent record when leading at the interval this season (W12, D1, L0)
Palace have it all to do.
Half time: Arsenal 2 Crystal Palace 0
Palace had a good early moment when Zaha hit the post but Arsenal have taken a firm grip of this game and are good value for their two goals. I fancy them to get at least one more.
45 mins: Arsenal 2 Crystal Palace 0
Now Partey is coming to the... well you get the idea with that one. He surges forward and cracks a shot.
Recently under Patrick Vieira, Crystal Palace looked worryingly blunt but they did at least fight against better teams. They have looked so casual and limp in midfield and open defensively in this first half, bar one onside break.
— Daniel Storey (@danielstorey85) March 19, 2023
44 mins: Arsenal 2 Crystal Palace 0
Arsenal are really piling it on, Trossard wins a corner that he takes himself.
Palace could get a pasting here.
GOAL! Arsenal 2 Crystal Palace 0 (Saka 43)
White and Saka at it again! They are forming a really dangerous partnership down that right flank. Relentless pressure from Arsenal, moving the ball around with patience and the upmost skill. White sends Saka through, and the young star has curled a left-footed shot past the keeper to double the lead. Brilliant finish. VAR check but I don't foresee any problems. Goal stands.
41 mins: Arsenal 1 Crystal Palace 0
Unfortunately for the Gooners, Odeagaard cannot find a finish to match and a good chance has gone untaken here.
40 mins: Arsenal 1 Crystal Palace 0
Here is Sam Dean on that super finish from Martinelli.
"That finish by Gabriel Martinelli is fast becoming his trademark move. He's so quick with it, shifting the ball from right foot to left. Before the defender knows what's happening, it's in the net."
36 mins: Arsenal 1 Crystal Palace 0
Bukayo Saka is the first player in the English top-flight league to get 10 goals and 10 assists this season. pic.twitter.com/HtG3x3EOMx
— Papa Kwamena🇬🇭⚽️🏟🥅 (@kwamena_eg) March 19, 2023
Trossard gets forward and wins a corner.
Arsenal absolutely bossing this and look in total control.
29 mins: Arsenal 1 Crystal Palace 0
That goal was coming, and Arsenal deserved it.
A delay of game because Xhaka has taken a knock.
GOAL! Arsenal 1 Crystal Palace 0 (Martinelli 28)
Saka with some quality on the right, linking up with White, played into Martinelli, who shifts it and hits an excellent shot that beats the keeper.
Wilf Zaha lost the ball and didn't track back, Saka and White got to work and Martinelli did the business for his 13th of the season.
19 mins: Arsenal 0 Crystal Palace 0
Ben White is playing right back for Arsenal and is getting up and down splendidly.
Saka slips him in now and he crosses but there's nobody to apply the finish.
15 mins: Arsenal 0 Crystal Palace 0
Arsenal are making most of the running, Saka into the box and there's another shout for a pen, but now Palace break and draw a good save from Ramsdale, albeit that the offside flag has now gone up.
Here's the young master Sam Dean
reporting from the Emirates.
"Here's something I did not expect to be writing at this stage of Arsenal's season: all eyes will be on Rob Holding today.
The Arsenal centre-back is a great character and an important person behind the scenes, but this season he has not featured much on the pitch. The injury to William Saliba, though, has changed all that.
Can Holding fill Saliba's shoes? How much will the loss of the Frenchman affect Arsenal's build-up play and high defensive line? Let's find out."
11 mins: Arsenal 0 Crystal Palace 0
Wilf Zaha! Palace's first moment of note and he surges forward into the Arsenal area and wallops a shot at goal. It hits the post and bounces off Ramsdale for a corner. That could easily have rebounded in off the keeper.
9 mins: Arsenal 0 Crystal Palace 0
Martinelli again, looking for Saka in the area and the home fans would like a penalty, but referee Atwell is unmoved to say the least.
5 mins: Arsenal 0 Crystal Palace 0
Martinelli having a bright start to his afternoon. Doucouré the next Palace man who has to look lively in defence.
3 mins: Arsenal 0 Crystal Palace 0
Arsenal coming forward, Xhaka and Martinelli linking up well and an excellent piece of defending from Guéhi.
1 mins: Arsenal 0 Crystal Palace 0
Right then, kick off time.
From Wiki, about Paddy McCarthy
"McCarthy signed for Bolton Wanderers on loan in March 2015, a prankster had telephoned the West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Pulis pretending to be Bolton manager Neil Lennon weeks previously, with an enquiry for Gareth McAuley as the main point of interest"
That is the most niche prank I have ever heard of.
Steve Parish on PV4
"Everybody loved Patrick, genuinely. The players had all the time in the world for him - he never lost the players at all.
"I think things just weren't happening. Obviously we're hoping that there's a bit of fresh impetus, a few different ideas and maybe we surprise the opposition a little bit."
Former club captain Paddy McCarthy has been put in temporary charge.
Martin Keown on Vieria sacking
Here's Martin on the BBC talking about his former comrade.
"I'm disappointed [that Patrick Vieira has been sacked], I think they’ve panicked. I think it might have a grave effect on the rest of their season, a lot of young players there and he was very influential with them and also the fixtures, the run of games they have had was quite remarkable. He has only really lost by the odd goal, all of the teams were really high up in the table, average position of sixth, they’ve lost by the odd goal and there have been some credible draws in there."
Seems to make a reasonable case, to my mind at least.
Arsenal: Ramsdale, White, Holding, Gabriel, Zinchenko, Odegaard, Partey, Xhaka, Saka, Trossard, Martinelli. Subs: Tierney, Gabriel Jesus, Smith Rowe, Kiwior, Jorginho, Vieira, Nelson, Turner, Walters.
Crystal Palace: Whitworth, Ward, Andersen, Guehi, Mitchell, Milivojevic, Doucoure, Schlupp, Olise, Edouard, Zaha. Subs: Tomkins, Ayew, Eze, Mateta, Clyne, Hughes, Richards, Ahamada, Goodman.
Referee: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire)
Premier League football
coming up. It's the League leaders, Arsenal, hosting Crystal Palace, who recently dispensed with the services of Gunners legend Patrick Vieira.
Mikel Arteta has told his Arsenal players to forget about their European exit as they aim to go eight points clear at the top of the Premier League.
The Gunners were beaten by Sporting in a penalty shootout on Thursday as they failed to reach the quarter-finals of the Europa League.
Attention now switches back to domestic matters, with Arsenal aiming to move further clear at the summit.
Managerless Crystal Palace are the visitors to the Emirates Stadium and, with closest title rivals Manchester City in FA Cup action, Arteta's side could head into the international break with a healthy lead.
"I tried to give a lot of clarity in the dressing room," Arteta replied when asked how he makes sure his players do not take their Europa League disappointment into the title race.
"It was all about the message: accept it, swallow it, we have to learn from it but there is no point now spending one bit of energy or thought that is going to take something out of Sunday.
"We have to be at our best again in the Premier League against Palace to beat them and I want everybody just recovering mentally and physically to be in the best possible condition for the game."
Despite their European elimination, Arteta feels he learns more from adversity than he does from success as he aims to take the positives from the Sporting loss.
"I saw a lot of things on Thursday, especially when we were giving a lot of balls away and suffering, that they did it together," he said.
"The way they reacted, the way they were when we conceded a goal and how the game changed after that. It shows me a lot of positive signs.
"The downside to it is that we could not materialise in the end to win it because - at the end - I think we deserved to win it and be through, but it wasn't enough, it was maybe too late.
"On Friday it was about delivering the message about the Palace game and lifting them up and making sure they are there in the best possible condition."
Captain Martin Odegaard echoed the sentiments of his manager and knows the players need to lift themselves if they are to deliver against Palace.
"It is very, very important," he replied when asked about bouncing back.
"The next game comes quick now so we can't feel sorry for ourselves. We have to recover and make sure we win.
"It is good we feel disappointed. We should feel disappointed. We have to make sure it is only tonight and we come in with fresh minds ready to win on Sunday."