Arsenal booked their place in the last-16 of the UEFA Europa League on Thursday evening, defeating Portuguese outfit Benfica 3-2 on a dramatic night in Athens.
However, the Gunners’ advantage soon became a distant memory as Benfica scored twice to put themselves 2-1 up on the night and 3-2 up on aggregate. Arsenal, though, were not willing to bow out of the competition without a fight, drawing level through Kieran Tierney’s well-taken effort.
Despite the Scotland international’s equalsier, Arsenal still needed one more goal to progress to the Round of 16 and it duly arrived three minutes from time when Aubameyang scored his second of the night to save the blushes of midfielder Dani Ceballos, who had gift-wrapped Benfica their second goal with a weak backwards header that had nowhere near enough conviction to get back to Bernd Leno in the Gunners goal.
Aubameyang was mobbed by his teammates whilst Martin Odegaard, on loan from Real Madrid, sank to his knees.
Amongst those to congratulate Aubameyang for being the Gunners’ saving grace was Bukayo Saka, who had provided a pinpoint cross from the right-wing for the Gabon international to connect with and put Arsenal 3-2 ahead.
Saka was also the provider for Aubameyang’s opening goal, playing a sublime pass for the striker to latch onto and put the Gunners 1-0 up.
His performance was up there with one of the very best that he has produced so far in an Arsenal shirt, once again raising the fans’ hopes of just how good he can be in years to come.
But it wasn’t just Arsenal’s fans, who have discovered today that the Gunners will face Greek outfit Olympiakos in the last-16, that were quick to laud Saka’s individual performance, as he also attracted praise from former midfielder Gilberto Silva.
Gilberto, who spent six years with Arsenal, took to social media to lavish Saka with praise, naming him as his Player of the Season so far.
The Brazilian said: “Saka was solid, like he has been all season. He is my Player of the Season right now.
“I talk about him every week on my podcast as I really like him.”
In truth, Gilberto is probably right. Saka would probably top every Player of the Season vote if Arsenal’s supporters were asked to cast their vote right now, with his performances having been on another level at times this season.
But Gilberto was not the only former Arsenal midfielder to send praise in Saka’s direction last night, as former Gunners captain Cesc Fabregas also highlighted his importance in this Gunners team.
“Saka is such a good player,” Fabregas said. “Such a maturity and intelligence for his age.
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For Saka to have earned reviews like that from two of Arsenal’s most influential players in their recent history speaks volumes about his talents.
Saka has been a permanent fixture in Arteta’s plans this season, racking up 31 appearances in all competitions, scoring six goals and bagging seven assists.
Should the youngster maintain those levels of form between now and the end of the campaign, Saka should have no worries about earning a spot in Gareth Southgate’s England squad for this summer’s Euro’s.