Forget Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe – Arsenal’s loss to Liverpool showed how crucial the youth academy Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe are to the success of Mikel Arteta’s project
- Arsenal’s £ 174.5m front three struggled in the club’s 3-0 loss to Liverpool
- Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe were poor
- Mikel Arteta greatly missed the energy of Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka
- Without the two academy stars, Arsenal lacks urgency, creativity and movement
The three most expensive players in Arsenal history started together for the first time since last season’s FA Cup final.
And yet the main takeaway from this competition was how important those academy graduates Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka have become to this club. Without those two, Arsenal fades.
Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe together cost £ 174.5 million, each with a club record fee when they were signed in 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively.
All three competed against Liverpool in Arsenal’s 3-0 defeat, leaving Mikel Arteta unhappy
Arsenal had played 45 consecutive games without naming all three on the same team sheet. Perhaps for good reason, as the hosts struggled to harass a vulnerable Liverpool defense.
Without Smith Rowe and without Saka, Arsenal lacked energy and excitement in their final third. They emerged with a little more urgency for the second half, no doubt after Arteta’s proverbial rocket.
Yet the absence of their two academy children was felt.
Smith Rowe can be a master of movement on the left. He makes dart runs in certain areas that drag opponents away from their positions, leaving room for others.
Arsenal greatly lacked 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 is under scrutiny amid his omission from Gareth Southgate’s newest England squad.
On the other wing, Pepe lost the ball for fun, while 19-year-old Saka would have loved the space provided behind marauding Andy Robertson.
Amid all this disappointment with Arsenal’s big names, Martin Odegaard has at least shown that he has secured a great loan. Arteta was behind his favorite 4-2-3-1 formation, with Odegaard at number 10.
Good news for Mikel Arteta was the performance of Martin Odegaard (right)
Arsenal had a plan to try and catch up with Liverpool’s largely inexperienced center-back pair Ozan Kabak and Nathaniel Phillips with the help of the Norwegian. When the visitors had the ball in the back, Odegaard sprinted from deep to Lacazette in high pressure to put the two under pressure.
But Liverpool, to their credit, passed well and used their own press to good effect. After an hour, Arsenal had managed a single shot – out of eight of the visitors.
The club will say it is good how vital Smith Rowe and Saka have become in the first team – a sign of academic success.
But more worryingly, a multimillion-pound combination of Lacazette, Aubameyang and Pepe couldn’t have more impact.