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Bukayo Saka: Arsenal “make a statement” in title race

LONDON – Arsenal are a very different team to the one which drew 2-2 at West Ham at the end of last season as their title push crumbled.

So is their talisman in attack, Bukayo Saka.

Saka missed a penalty kick which would’ve put them 3-1 up that day. This trip to London Stadium saw him score a penalty, and another beautiful goal, as Arsenal routed the Hammers 6-0.

As Arsenal proved in their dominant home win against Liverpool last weekend, they’re a different beast this campaign.

Saka is scoring freely as he’s added a ruthless streak to his slinking runs and has scored five goals in his last five PL games. Martin Odegaard is pulling the strings. Declan Rice is controlling midfield and chipping in with goals and assists. They’re leading the league in set-piece goals. Different players are stepping up in attack when injuries crop up. Tactically they can now play different ways.

Everything that can go right is going right at the moment for Arsenal. Their only problem is that experienced title contenders Manchester City and Liverpool are still ahead of them in the table. Just.

Statement made as Saka underlines Arsenal’s growing maturity

But it’s so tight. Just two points separates Liverpool at the top and Arsenal in third. Goal difference reads +32, +31, +31 for Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal respectively. This will go down to the wire.

“We knew this was a big game and it was really important for us to win and make a statement,” Saka told reporters after the game. “I think we did really well today scoring six and keeping a clean sheet.”

Understatement alert. Saka sums up the confidence, focus, humble nature and belief flowing through this young Arsenal side.

Still just 22, Saka having the composure to step up and slot home his penalty kick this season after the painful miss at West Ham last season encapsulates the leap forward, in terms of maturity, the Gunners have made.

“If you’re going to be a penalty taker I don’t know any penalty taker that scores every single penalty,” Saka explained. “I’m not happy to miss but I understand it’s part of the game so when I won the penalty I was ready to take it again and score… I’ve had many lessons in my career and the best choice is to learn and take the learning process which makes you stronger.”

Does Saka hold the key to title dreams?

Arsenal are stronger this season and so is Saka.

So far this season he’s scored 13 goals and has 13 assists in all competitions. Last season he had 15 goals and 11 assists in all competitions. He’s equalled his goal involvement return already and has played in 14 fewer Premier League games this season and has a least two more Champions League games to play. It’s also fair to say that Saka is yet to really hit top gear this season.

Asked about his numbers this campaign and matching the like of Mohamed Salah in terms of goal involvements, Saka is staying focused but hinted at even bigger targets.

“Of course I have my own targets. I know these days the media like to compare players,” Saka smiled. “I just stay in my own lane and stay focused on what I want to achieve and what I wanted to achieve at the start of the season. I’m still going and I’ve got quite a few more to go.”

If Saka does have ‘quite a few more to go’ in terms of goals then Arsenal’s title push will see them get even closer to the holy grail of a first Premier League title since 2004.

Liverpool have Salah. Man City have Haaland. Arsenal have Saka. The goals and assists of that trio are the x-factor in the title dreams of their respective teams. Saka is now on that level.