Freddie Ljungberg hailed Arsenal teenager Bukayo Saka as “amazing” after a man-of-the-match performance in a Europa League draw at Standard Liege.
The Gunners were two goals behind before Saka provided the cross for Alexandre Lacazette to halve the arrears and then fire home the equaliser three minutes later as the Group F encounter finished 2-2.
The result, coupled with Eintracht Frankfurt’s surprise home defeat to Vitoria, was enough for Arsenal to progress as group winners and avoid the likes of Inter Milan and Ajax in Monday’s round of 32 draw.
Round of 32 is set ✅
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) December 12, 2019
Ljungberg admitted he had taken a “little gamble” by making nine changes for the game but was left praising 18-year-old Saka – who he felt had not been happy with the interim head coach before kick-off in Belgium.
“He was amazing,” Ljungberg said after the game.
“I think he was a bit upset with me before the game that he had to play wing-back and then full-back – because he doesn’t like it so much!
“But no, he’s a tremendous talent and you could see it here again. His final ball and the last bit is always effective and there’s always an end product to his work.”
With a growing injury list and a piling fixture list, it was little surprise to see so many alterations to the Arsenal side.
After taking maximum points from their opening three Europa League games of the season, a poor run of form saw them take just two points from the next three – but it was enough to finish in top spot.
“Of course it’s very, very good (to top the group),” added Ljungberg.
“We started the group really well, then we had some problems in two games and then we came to this.
“We played a lot of games lately and of course I want to give the young ones a chance as I said before, but I needed to rotate as well because we got injuries in the West Ham game and I didn’t have many options left.
“And we have a game again on Sunday. Of course it was a little gamble but I believe in those young players and they pulled through and we’re top of the group.”
🔢 Confirmation of how Group F finished up
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) December 12, 2019
Liege had taken a shock lead after two deflected goals from Samuel Bastien and Selim Amallah caught out the Arsenal defence.
Their efforts proved to be in vain as they drop out of the competition but coach Michel Preud’homme was happy with his side’s work.
“I think we almost played the perfect game,” he said.
Nous y étions presque. Triste du résultat final mais heureux d’appartenir à la famille Rouche.Un public incroyable et une équipe qui a montré de belles choses. Nous avons un grand rendez-vous ce dimanche, on y va tous ensemble.#COYR 🔴⚪️ pic.twitter.com/fB0FUpeb9F
— Samuel Bastien (@Samubastien) December 12, 2019
“We really wanted to win, but also knew that we had to make three goals. Unfortunately, we only made two.
“I can say that I am proud of this team because of the way we played during this campaign and against Arsenal.
“Maybe we did not get that sixth consecutive home win, but we stay unbeaten.”