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Premier League - Football: Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe in race to be Arsenal's top scorer

The situation with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang threatened to destabilise Arsenal at a time they most needed stability.

On the back of a defeat to an Everton side who couldn’t buy a win, Arsenal’s captain had been dropped for disciplinary reasons.

Their second highest goalscorer, on big wages, on the wrong side of 30, and now Mikel Arteta was refusing to play him.

Purely in a football sense, it proved a blessing in disguise. Arsenal won their next four games, scoring 14 goals, the run only derailed by a farcical two minutes against Manchester City.

A frustrating draw with Burnley followed, but an important, backs-to-the-walls win against Wolves after going down to 10 men was the start of another four-game winning run which has seen them favourites for the top four over Manchester United and Tottenham.

Few sides would be better off with their captain, talisman and primary source of goals out of the team, but credit to Arteta for how he’s adapted. It gave Alexandre Lacazette not only the armband, but a guaranteed place up front, and he came up with five goal contributions in the first four games without Aubameyang.

Similarly, Gabriel Martinelli has nailed down a place on the left, while Bukayo Saka has become one of the first names on the team sheet on the right, with Martin Odegaard continuing to impress in the #10 role.

The young Brazilian is being nurtured shrewdly by Arteta, and has scored five in the league this season, while Saka, who’s becoming increasingly important for the Gunners, has scored six in his last eight, taking him to eight for the season.

Odegaard, like Martinelli, is also on five, and while everything seems rosy at the Emirates right now, there has been one notable absentee in Emile Smith Rowe.

Since being awarded the same number 10 shirt donned by the likes of Robin van Persie, Mesut Ozil and Dennis Bergkamp last season, Smith Rowe has gone from strength to strength. Despite missing the start of the 2020/21 campaign, he began to establish himself throughout the season, playing an even more prominent role this.

Curiously, he’s only managed two starts since the beginning of December, with his manager suggesting he’s struggled with niggles and fitness following a groin injury, and with the current front four playing as they are, there’s little reason to take any unnecessary risks.

However, despite his limited game time, he’s continued to make his presence felt off the bench, with goals against West Ham, Leeds and Norwich.

While the young Gunners are all pulling in the same direction looking to pull clear in the race for the top four, there will surely be a little friendly competition to see who’ll finish as their top scorer this season.

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The odds suggest it’s a two-horse race between Saka (5/6) and Smith Rowe (11/10), but the value may lie elsewhere.

While Saka’s unlikely to be rested – or dropped – much between now and the end of the season, he doesn’t quite get into the optimal shooting positions his teammates do.

His trigger-happy style (he’s registered 59 shots this season, compared to Martinelli and Lacazette’s 32, Smith Rowe’s 29 and Odegaard’s 21) has fired him to eight goals, but his xG at 5.7 is lower than Lacazette (6.5), and his xG p90 (0.27) is lower than Martinelli’s (0.33); with the Brazilian now a regular in the side, we may see an increased output from him.

Currently on five, as long as he holds down his place in the team, don’t be surprised to see the Brazilian start finding the net more often in the coming weeks.

Saka’s non-penalty xG/shot is 0.10 – the same as Odegaard, who’s no stranger to a pot-shot from outside the area in addition to his free-kicks – lower than Smith Rowe and Martinelli (0.13), as well as Lacazette (0.16), and his average distance from goal per shot is higher than Martinelli and Lacazette too.

But regardless of where they come from, Arteta will be delighted to have goals coming from so many different sources, and it will only aid Arsenal in their quest for Champions League football.

By @LiamWilliamsSJ

Arsenal Top Team Goalscorer:

Bukayo Saka – 5/6

Emile Smith Rowe – 11/10

Martin Odegaard – 10/1

Gabriel Martinelli – 16/1

Alexandre Lacazette – 33/1

Nicolas Pepe – 100/1

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