Bukayo Saka celebrated signing a new long-term contract by helping Arsenal deliver a blow to Wolverhampton Wanderers’ hopes of Champions League football next season.
The 18-year-old, who delighted manager Mike Arteta by pledging his future to the club, demonstrated why he is so highly regarded by scoring his first Premier League goal – a sweet, left-foot volley just before the interval.
And the Gunners made it four successive victories when Alexandre Lacazette capped a fine team display by turning on fellow substitute Joe Willock’s pass and firing emphatically past Wolves keeper Rui Patricio with five minutes left.
Wolves had been hoping to build on an impressive restart to the season but knew the pressure was on to win after fellow top-four contenders Leicester City and Manchester United recorded victories before kick-off at Molineux.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side were not at their best. Adama Traore had their clearest chance after the break when he raced in on Arsenal keeper Emiliano Martinez from Diogo Jota’s pass, but the Spanish forwrd lifted his finish over the top in wasteful fashion.
Wolves are still sixth in the Premier League table on 52 points, but seventh-placed Arsenal are now only three points behind.
Perfect end to Arsenal’s week
Spirits have soared at Arsenal since they made a desperate restart to the Premier League season with defeat at Manchester City and then that acrimonious late loss at Brighton, a match that also cost them goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
They have since recorded league wins over Southampton and Norwich City, as well as progressing to the FA Cup semi-finals with victory at Sheffield United – but this win at Wolves was the most impressive demonstration yet of Arteta’s growing influence.
And it came at the end of a pleasing week for the club with exciting teenagers Saka and Gabriel Martinelli both signing long-term contracts.
Saka showed his quality with that left-foot volley, taken with athleticism, composure and guided cleverly out of Rui Patricio’s reach – but it came amid a fine all-round team performance.
Arsenal arrived at Molineux with Wolves storming into contention for the top four after three straight wins – over West Ham United, Bournemouth and Aston Villa – since the season’s resumption.
Indeed, such was their form, Saka’s goal was the first they had conceded in 448 minutes.
However, Arsenal were resolute, determined and willing to trade in the physical exchanges, and they produced the decisive moments of quality to win the game.
It continued the renaissance under Arteta, and while it is wise to keep all optimism in perspective given previous false dawns, this recent run leaves them only six points behind Manchester United, who had moved up to fourth by thrashing Bournemouth 5-2 earlier on Saturday.
Wolves miss a big chance
Wolves carried real momentum into this meeting with Arsenal after their flawless restart – but they fell flat on Saturday and could have no complaints about the outcome.
Nuno’s side remain in a superb position with a real chance of Champions League football next season, a tribute in itself the outstanding work of the Portuguese manager and his players.
However, they struggled to exert any serious pressure on the Gunners and dangerman Traore was relatively well contained, although he was always a threat and should have equalised with Wolves’ best chance.
It was a disappointed group of players who trooped off at the end to the silence that is now the accompaniment to these behind-closed-doors games, but their previous record suggests they still have the determination and talent, as well as the manager, to bounce back.
Wolves will need to do it quickly, though, with time running out in this restarted season and their rivals picking up wins.
Man of the match – Shkodran Mustafi (Arsenal)
‘A week I will remember my whole life’ – what they said
Arsenal goalscorer Bukayo Saka, speaking to Sky Sports: “It is very big. We know how good Wolves are and how tough it was going to be. We fought for every ball and it is good to build some momentum.
“It has been a week I will remember for my whole life. You can see the manager is building.
“I am 18 and it has been a dream to play for this club. I have to take it game by game. Wherever the boss wants to put me, I want to play.”
Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santos, speaking to Sky Sports: “The first half was balanced – both teams were organised with not many chances. One moment we lost our shape and Arsenal scored. We started the second half better and were pressing and creating chances. But we knew, as the game goes by, Arsenal have good players on the counter attack.
“Mistakes happen. We have to look at [what happened] and solve. It was a moment of concentration and we allowed ourselves to concede. We have to bounce back and reinvent ourselves.
“We had spells where we had options to score. The goal was there and we were looking for it. After the second goal it became much harder.
“It doesn’t change the way we see things. Other results and the table do not guide us. We were not able to do things we wanted to do. We only focus on the way and how we want to do things – and focus on the next challenge.”
Wolves lack cutting edge – the stats
- Arsenal have won three consecutive league games without conceding for the first time since November 2017, while this is the first time they have won back-to-back away league games without conceding since October 2015.
- Wolves suffered their first Premier League defeat in nine games, while this was their first league loss by more than one goal since September (5-2 to Chelsea).
- This was Arsenal’s first away league victory against a side starting above them in the league table since September 2015, when they won 5-2 at Leicester.
- Wolves managed just one shot on target in this match, with that coming after just 17 seconds courtesy of Adama Traore.
- Bukayo Saka’s goal was his first in the Premier League for Arsenal – aged 18 years 303 days, he is the second youngest English player to score in the Premier League for the Gunners, after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against Blackburn in February 2012 (18 years 173 days).
- Alexandre Lacazette’s goal was his first away from home in the Premier League since February 2019, ending a run of 16 away games.
- Despite only coming on as a 76th-minute substitute, Joe Willock’s two chances created – including the assist for Lacazette’s goal – was more than any other Arsenal player.
- Emiliano Martinez has kept a clean sheet in six of his eight Premier League starts for Arsenal (75%), the best ratio of any Gunners keeper with at least five starts in the competition.
Arsenal host Leicester City on Tuesday (20:15 BST), while Wolves travel to Sheffield United the following evening (18:00).