Teenage forward Bukayo Saka made his first Arsenal start on Thursday night as Unai Emery’s young side completed their Europa League group campaign with a victory over Qarabag.
Ealing-born Saka, whose only previous first-team appearance came in last month’s 3-0 win at Vorskla Poltava, played the full 90 minutes as the Gunners eased to a 1-0 success.
He was Arsenal’s star man on a night that will be quickly forgotten by many of the 30,000 or so fans who braved the cold at the Emirates Stadium, where the official tickets-sold figure exceeded 58,000.
The night will perhaps live longer in the memory for Saka and a host of other youngsters blooded – Eddie Nketiah and Joe Willock also started, while Charlie Gilmour and Zechariah Medley came off the bench in the second half.
Saka was a constant bright spark and fired in more shots – four, with three on target – than any other player on the pitch. He also completed more dribbles – eight – than anyone else involved.
The 17-year-old started the night on the left side of Arsenal’s three-man attack, but switched to the opposite flank to create the first major chance of the game inside the opening 10 minutes. His curling left-foot effort was parried by goalkeeper Vagner into the path of Willock, who really should have tucked away the rebound.
Saka played with freedom when in possession and frequently showed he has the confidence to commit defenders.
But he also sat deep when Arsenal were without the ball, beefing up their midfield with his 5′ 8″ frame.
Saka thought he had registered his first senior assist 14 minutes from time but his cross found Nketiah just offside before the ball was headed into the net.
And he should have scored himself in the dying seconds but was denied one-on-one by a fine save.
Young Saka, who wore the No 87 on his back, will be hoping to be involved again later in the tournament. Arsenal will discover their last-32 opponents on Monday when the latest Europa League draw is made in Nyon.