Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe crucial to Arsenal's success

Forget Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe – Arsenal’s loss to Liverpool showed how crucial academy boys Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe are to success of Mikel Arteta’s project

  • Arsenal’s £174.5million front three struggled in the club’s 3-0 loss to Liverpool
  • Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe were poor
  • Mikel Arteta sorely missed the energy of Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka
  • Without the two academy stars, Arsenal lack urgency, creativity and movement 

The three most expensive players in Arsenal’s history started together for the first time since last season’s FA Cup final.

And yet, the main takeaway from this match was how important those academy graduates Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka have become to this club. Without those two, Arsenal fade.

Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe cost a combined £174.5million, with each commanding a club-record fee when they were signed in 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe all finally started together

All three struggled against Liverpool in Arsenal’s 3-0 loss, leaving Mikel Arteta disgruntled

Arsenal had gone 45 consecutive games without naming all three on the same team-sheet. Perhaps for good reason, as the hosts struggled to trouble a fragile Liverpool defence.

With no Smith Rowe and no Saka, Arsenal lacked energy and excitement in their final third. They emerged for the second half with a smidgen more urgency, no doubt after the proverbial rocket from Arteta.

Yet still, the absence of their two academy kids was felt.

Smith Rowe can be a master of movement on the left-hand side. He makes darting runs into certain areas that drag opposition players away from their positions, creating space for others.

Arsenal sorely missed the youthful energy of Emile Smith Rowe (left) and Bukayo Saka (right)

That would have posed problems for Trent Alexander-Arnold, the Liverpool right back whose form has been under the microscope amid his omission from Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad.

On the opposite wing, Pepe was losing the ball for fun, whereas the 19-year-old Saka would have loved the space being afforded behind the marauding Andy Robertson.

Amid all this disappointment in Arsenal’s big-name signings, Martin Odegaard has shown himself a fine loan acquisition at least. Arteta stood by his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, with Odegaard at No 10.

Some good news for Mikel Arteta was the performance of loan signing Martin Odegaard (right)

Arsenal had a plan to try to catch out Liverpool’s largely-inexperienced centre back pairing of Ozan Kabak and Nathaniel Phillips using the Norwegian. When the visitors had the ball at the back, Odegaard sprinted from deep to join Lacazette in a high press designed to pressurise those two.

But Liverpool, to their credit, were passing well and using their own press to good effect. After an hour, Arsenal had managed a single shot – to the visitors’ eight.

The club will say it’s good how vital Smith Rowe and Saka have become in the first team – a sign of academic success.

But it is more worrying that a multimillion-pound combination of Lacazette, Aubameyang and Pepe could not have more of an influence.

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