A fourth-placed finish in the Premier League is now Arsenal’s to lose, says Paul Merson, who sees in Bukayo Saka a player “at the top of his game”.
The Gunners secured a thrilling 3-2 victory at Watford last Sunday to move up to fourth in the table at the expense of Manchester United, who have played three games more.
Fine goals from Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli saw Arsenal claim an eighth Premier League victory in their last 10 games, and with games ahead in the next week against Leicester and Liverpool – both of which are live on Sky Sports – Merson thinks his former side are in pole position for Champions League qualification.
Read on for the Magic Man’s latest skysports.com column…
Watch Arsenal’s next two PL games on Sky Sports…
Watch Arsenal’s next two Premier League games against Leicester and Liverpool live on Sky Sports. The Gunners host Leicester on Super Sunday (Sunday March 13, kick-off 4.30pm) before welcoming Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool to the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday March 16; kick-off 8.15pm.
‘Fourth is now Arsenal’s to lose’
A top-four finish is definitely Arsenal’s to lose.
They’ve got the games in hand, and while it is not the easiest fixture list in the world, they are playing really well. They do have to play Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Spurs, but they are in form.
They still have to get the job done in the games we expect them to win, but they are in a great position.
‘Watford win was like watching Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal’
FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Arsenal’s win against Watford
It’s hard to play entertaining football like Arsenal did at Watford and not let in goals at the other end.
The first Watford goal (Cucho Hernandez’s bicycle kick) you just cannot stop. The only thing you can say is maybe you can stop the cross, but it is a good move, and the finish is amazing. Sometimes you just have to take a step back and clap. I know we can go back and look at every goal from a Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday and pick holes in the goal, and how it could have been stopped, but sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say ‘great goal’.
The second Watford goal (Moussa Sissoko’s late strike) shouldn’t happen. It’s a poor goal for Arsenal to concede, but let’s be positive. The three goals Arsenal scored were different class.
That was the Arsenal of old. That was like watching one of Arsene Wenger’s teams with Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires pulling the strings.
‘Super Saka on top of his game’
Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka celebrates scoring their side’s second goal of the game
When you look at Bukayo Saka now and then at Marcus Rashford, it’s strange to see how one just keeps going forward, and the other is going backwards, at the moment.
A year or two years ago it was Rashford who was flying, but at the moment Saka is making all the right decisions. Everything he is doing at the moment is coming off for him. He is at the top of his game.
His involvement in the first goal with Martin Odegaard was brilliant, and he took the quick throw for Gabriel Martinelli’s strike. Then there is the give and go and the superb finish for his own goal. All those things just show the confidence he is playing with at the moment.
‘Outstanding’ Saka earns plaudits
The Sky Sports punditry team were queuing up to praise man-of-the-match Bukayo Saka after Arsenal’s 3-2 win at Watford.
Jamie Redknapp said: “Saka was the outstanding player on show. Everything about his game was class. He showed great strength for his goal and played a lovely one-two and the finish into the far corner is so hard to stop. It was a brilliant goal. What a player.”
Roy Keane added: “We’ve mentioned Saka before and he was absolutely outstanding. It was very simple but very effective, the nice and tidy give-and-go with Odegaard for the first goal. There was nothing the goalkeeper could do about it. To be fair to Watford, they kept going but they were short of quality. They just concede so many.”
Alan Smith, meanwhile, said: “The best players make the game look easy and Bukayo Saka has done that today. He’s been absolutely superb. What a talent.”
‘Odegaard now showing his quality’
Arsenal’s Martin Odegaard celebrates scoring
Arsenal had a good transfer window. They really did buy well last summer.
Everybody that has come in has performed. Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, Martin Odegaard and Takehiro Tomiyasu have all hit the ground running, and the improvement is there for all to see.
Odegaard has really come to the party now.
Arteta on Saka and Odegaard…
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta on the understanding between Saka and Martin Odegaard:
“I think it’s between them. The way the game flows, the way we attack, how we adapt our positions relating to each other, how we move the ball.
“The speed of the movement, the timing if it is much better, the position that we get, the threat and the sense of having the capacity to create the chances that we have done is much better and we have to keep developing that.”
He is a very good footballer. I didn’t really see that at the start of his time with Arsenal, but I really see it now. He’s a player that sees things very quickly and he has great movement. He is a quality player.
I think it did take him a while to get going and settle into life at Arsenal. He probably hoped things would work out for him at Real Madrid, but now he’s at Arsenal, and he’s seen what a club it is, and it’s a move that’s worked out for both parties.
‘Arsenal’s patience in Arteta paying off’
Mikel Arteta played a pivotal role in Arsenal’s third goal against Watford, with the Arsenal coach swiftly throwing the ball to Saka to continue the attack.
People always say about Arsenal that they are not where they should be, but that does not mean they are not a high-quality club. They are a Rolls Royce club and they have done well.
They have stuck by Mikel Arteta and looked at the all-round picture.
There have been times where they could have got rid of Arteta, and then what would they have done? Bring in an interim manager, just go nowhere and get stuck?
It has taken a bit of time, but Arsenal really have done well. They have bought in players for a reason and not just for the sake of it.
They identified they needed a goalkeeper, a centre-half, a right back, a No 10 and some squad depth, and they went out and got it done. Then on the flip side, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rocked the boat and straight away there was no messing around. He was gone out of the club, see you later.
In contrast, you look at Manchester United and they aren’t taking a similar course. They are just drifting along and there is no change coming, which is really sad for the biggest club in the world.
Merson Says: Rashford to leave Man Utd – seriously?
Marcus Rashford is suffering from his first major confidence crisis at Man Utd but the prospect of him leaving Old Trafford cannot be entertained, says Paul Merson.
A big week coming up for Arsenal…
Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli celebrates with his team-mates after he scored his side’s third goal (AP)
It’s a big week coming up for Arsenal with Leicester at the Emirates on Super Sunday, Liverpool are in town on Wednesday, and then they go to Aston Villa in the early kick-off the following Saturday.
For as well as Arsenal are doing, they do have some tricky games coming up, and you look at the games against Leicester and Aston Villa, games they should really win, but you wouldn’t be surprised if Leicester or Villa got something out of the games.
However, fourth position is in Arsenal’s hands and although it is a tricky week in terms of schedule, Arsenal will soon be back to one game a week for most of the rest of the season.
Arsenal have had it easier in terms of that than the rest because of no European football, going out of the FA Cup early, so we shouldn’t be feeling too sorry for them this week when some teams have been doing this virtually all season.
They have had a big advantage, but this week is a test, and a good week could go a long way to firming up the race for fourth.
Watch the Gunners’ next two Premier League games against Leicester and Liverpool live on Sky Sports. The Gunners host Leicester on Super Sunday (Sunday March 13, kick-off 4.30pm) before welcoming Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool to the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday March 16; kick-off 8.15pm.