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The unsung Arsenal hero bringing the best out of Bukayo Saka

Arsenal 2-1 Wolves (Saka 6′, Odegaard 13′ | Cunha 86′)

EMIRATES STADIUM — The goalscorers only told us one side of the story.

Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard, crucial cogs of Arsenal‘s Premier League title charge, had the hosts 2-0 up and cruising against Wolves after just 13 minutes.

Prior to Saturday, Arsenal had not scored inside the first 15 minutes in the league this season. This time around, they were two goals to the good by then, the fast start warming up Gooners inside this near-freezing stadium and building on their five-goal first half against Lens.

Saka scored his eighth and Odegaard his seventh of the season, ensuring they lead the way outright in the Arsenal goalscoring charts – and it was all made possible thanks to some one-touch wizardry and intuitive link-ups that left Wolves’ defence dizzy.

First it was down the right. Saka to Gabriel Jesus, to Takehiro Tomiyasu, to Saka.

A fine move usurped only by the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it second that was created down the left, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Jesus playing a one-two so perfect they celebrated together while Odegaard wheeled off in a different direction.

And so beyond the obvious, Saka and Odegaard firing league leaders Arsenal to victory, it was worth noting that their full-backs grabbed the assists.

Sometimes inverted, but also creating problems out wide, Zinchenko and Tomiyasu were integral during wave after wave of Arsenal attack.

Tomiyasu’s influence

For Tomiyasu, making his fourth consecutive league start, his place within Arteta’s starting XI is looking increasingly assured. After two assists against Lens, another for Saka on Saturday afternoon was just the headline-maker of an altogether composed performance where he barely put a foot wrong and allowed Arsenal’s “starboy” to flourish.

This should spell bad news for Ben White, who had started their first 11 league games this season but has dropped to the bench for their last three, but along comes the snag – Tomiyasu went off injured in the 79th minute, requiring medical treatment before walking off unassisted.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 02: Takehiro Tomiyasu of Arsenal goes down with an injury during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Emirates Stadium on December 02, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Arteta did not appear overly concerned by Tomiyasu’s injury (Photo: Getty)

The manner in which he went off will have Arsenal fans hoping this isn’t anything serious, amid fears it is a recurrence of his calf problems, and afterwards Arteta did not appear overly concerned.

“I don’t know,” said Arteta. “He felt something, I don’t know if it was fatigue, but we didn’t want to take any risks. Let’s assess and see how it is.”

When asked about Tomiyasu’s progression, Arteta added: “What he offers defensively, he is tremendously reliable. Attacking wise, there are things he can improve, he’s so willing to learn and do that. I still think he has another level in him.”

In White, Arsenal have an able replacement, but the sight of a hobbling Tomiyasu was an unwanted reminder of how easily seasons can be dictated by injuries during a busy festive period – just as Newcastle and Tottenham fans will tell you, with their teams decimated by absentees this weekend.

Together, Tomiyasu and White make for two quality full-back options, but when you are light just one then suddenly it becomes more troublesome.

And this enforced change then set the tone for the final 20 minutes of match. Kai Havertz had replaced Gabriel Martinelli just two minutes prior, and Arsenal lost their rhythm, the fast start long forgotten with Zinchenko then at fault for Wolves’ goal in the 86th minute.

Another narrow win, a week after Havertz’s late heroics at Brentford, and if you’re a glass half-full person then that’s just what you need to win titles. Three points secured, next.

But those who are glass half-empty are right to be concerned, with the prospect of injuries and lapses in concentration two ever-lingering threat.

Arsenal may be top, but they are four points worse off than they were at this stage of last season. They can therefore ill-afford even just the smallest changes in fortune.

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