Saka normalizes his ‘winner status’
For the second game in a row, Bukayo Saka scored the winning goal for Arsenal in difficult circumstances.
Five days after his late penalty resulted in a win over Liverpool, Saka found a first-half winner against a tough Bodo/Glimt side who had won their last 14 European games at home – albeit by fortunate circumstances in a far from convincing display.
Saka needn’t be reminded of the importance of big moments, his last penalty miss at Euro 2020 for England proves to be the ultimate education of that, but the mark of a champion is that he produces those occasions regularly. He does.
His goal in Norway on Thursday night is his fourth goal in seven consecutive starts for Arsenal. The ‘championship mentality’ – as an Arsenal scout described him at the age of eight – is reflected on the pitch and in his personality.
“Winning is the most important thing for me,” Saka told BT Sport after the game. “I’m a big believer in being a team player when we do that” [win]I leave the field satisfied.”
Saka went so far as to say that Bodo/Glimt didn’t have that same mentality as they turned down chance after chance against the Gunners. “This is football, if you don’t score you will be punished,” he added. “We’ve had matches like that and have the feeling that the match has ended badly. You quickly learn that this is football.”
Many at Arsenal have said how Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko instilled a ‘winning mentality’ from Manchester City. It turns out that Saka already had that in abundance or is taking advantage of this new culture.
Eleven of Arsenal’s 12 wins so far this season. The longer they keep Saka fit and healthy, the more successful a season they will have.
Patience is key at Man Utd as Ten Hag takes small steps to make progress
There was a clear sense of frustration around Old Trafford as the clock ticked past 90 minutes. Some fans were already on their way to the exits. Others still questioned whether it was wise to send Scott McTominay to Casemiro when Manchester United desperately needed a goal.
But the Scot was the surprise match winner well into stoppage time, eventually finding his way past the inspired Francis Uzoho in Omonia Nicosia’s goal. After banging on the door all night, United finally came in.
Taking a win against sixth in the Cypriot league is hardly something to cheer about, but after that Erik ten Hag was quietly satisfied with his team’s performance. “I’m not worried,” he said when asked about the only goal.
Yes, the finish could have been sharper, he admitted. But 34 shots on target, against a side that defended deep and compact all night, underlined for him the perseverance and continuous creativity of his team to find a way through. And finally, for the fourth game in a row, a substitute scored for United. Further evidence for him of a growing unity and team mentality.
A draw would have been far from ideal. Shameful in the eyes of some. But the win gives United hopes of surpassing their Europa League group. Again, it’s a long way from the illustrious achievements of previous United teams to grace this stadium, but progress in this league would be another step forward for Ten Hag’s group.
The defeat to Manchester City was a wake-up call to how far United are currently from the pinnacle of English football. It’s going to be a long way back. Perspective and patience are the keywords. Ten Hag and United both needed Thursday evening, but in the end got what they needed.
Moyes uses Europe to rebuild momentum
West Ham reached the semi-finals of the Europa League last season and are now very well placed for another long European run.
The group winners advance to the last 16, while whoever finishes second plays two more games in a play-off against the sides that finish third in the Europa League.
Moyes has mastered the art of using Thursday night to get his Hammers side up to speed and after a sixth win in seven in all competitions, momentum is building in East London.
The Scot is not taking any chances and as a precaution removes Angelo Ogbonna in the first half, while Lucas Paqueta was eliminated on a booking at half time. This group now has depth and after a shaky start to the campaign we are seeing the fruits of Moyes’ rotation in this competition.
Said Benrahma buzzed around menacingly after his free kick brought confidence to his game. When Paqueta was withdrawn, Pablo Fornals went into battle.
On the flanks. Vladimir Coufal and Emerson are no noticeable downgrades, Declan Rice was not missed in midfield, Gianluca Scamacca was not needed but both were brought in to maintain the standard during a second half that had drifted.
There are of course bigger challenges ahead in Europe, but with Nayef Aguerd returning from injury this summer, all signs point to another season of real content on multiple fronts.