Since his breakthrough into the Arsenal first-team under then-manager Unai Emery, Bukayo Saka has become undroppable for the Gunners.
He grew up and developed through Arsenal’s world famous Hale End Academy, and looks to be the next big star to come out of the system in North London.
The 2020/21 season has been Saka’s most prolific campaign of his career thus far. In all competitions, he has totalled 11 goal contributions in an Arsenal team which is, to put it lightly, underperforming.
This includes 5 Premier League goals, the joint-most of any teenager in the competition so far (Wolves’ Pedro Neto also has 5). To compare, Greenwood has 1 and Hudson-Odoi has 2.
Direct goal contributions don’t tell the whole story for the young England star, though. He has created 3 big chances in the league this season, with an average of 1.3 key passes a game.
His 2 arguably most important of his contributions came in the Europa League Round of 32 clash at home to Benfica. Saka assisted Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on two occasions with pin-point accuracy in the final third to help scrape Arsenal across the line in Athens.
Arteta’s go-to man
At just 19 years of age, Bukayo Saka has quickly become one of Arsenal’s most reliable and important performers.
Already this season, he has played 22 league games, with only one of these appearances off the bench. This comes with an average of 85 minutes per game.
The story is similar in Europe: 4 games, 3 starts, 73 minutes per game. It’s very easy to forget that he’s only a teenager; it’s rare for such a young player to be relied on so heavily by such a big club.
The reason is simple, though. Without Saka, Arsenal look lost. They lack creativity, hunger, composure, and they simply lack a presence in the final third.
When he isn’t on the pitch, Arteta turns to one of Nicolas Pépé or Willian, both of which are yet to really hit the ground running in North London thus far.
In fact, one simple change by Arteta completely changed Arsenal’s threat going forward. By moving Saka to the right and Pépé to the left, the side have a noticeable balance that was very missed previously, and it is a change that has brought out more of the best in both men.
Whilst Saka is undoubtedly on fire for the Gunners right now, it is very important that Arteta doesn’t burn the youngster out. He starts practically every league and European fixture the side play, which is especially risky in the current congested fixture schedule.
One of the worst things that could happen to Arsenal right now, is Saka picking up a long-term injury. It is inexplicably important for Arteta to manage his minutes carefully to best prevent this from happening.
Bukayo Saka is undeniably one of football’s top talents, not just in England, but in the world. He is a brilliant player to watch, who is flexible and has impressed greatly in a range of positions.
For a 19 year old, he plays with such a remarkable level of maturity. Some teenagers are rash and feel raw on the ball, but Saka feels so accustomed – he plays like he has been in the league for years on end.
There is a calmness that radiates across the entire team when he is on the ball. When he gives the ball away, he works his socks off to win it back, potentially a mindset helped by his previous defensive role at left back.
Furthermore, Bukayo Saka’s intelligence is admirable. He always makes the right decision in terms of the final ball, and also when to speed up the play versus when to slow the game down.
Many professional and ex-professional footballers have been quick to praise Saka and the work he is doing for Mikel Arteta and Arsenal right now. Their reliance on a teenager is admittedly scary, but we need to appreciate his quality while we are seeing it so frequently.
The upcoming Euros
Saka made his England debut back in October 2020. It was only a matter of time, and he put in a solid display in a 3-0 victory over neighbours Wales.
Gareth Southgate has a dilemma, though it’s a good dilemma to have. This current batch of England internationals are extremely talented, and he will have to make some tough decisions ahead of the Euros in the summer.
For me, however, Saka is a necessity. With his best position at right-wing, he is a very valuable asset for England as he can fill in and do a very good job at left-wing, left-back, and even in the 8 position (dependent on Southgate’s choice of formation).
It may be difficult for him to cement himself as a starter, though, with Jadon Sancho shining for Dortmund in the Bundesliga. He definitely has a chance, though, and his campaign so far should not be overlooked; he has been one of few consistent Arsenal players, alongside Kieran Tierney, Thomas Partey, and Bernd Leno.
Bukayo Saka could help bring the Euros home for England at their home-tournament this summer, the very same way he is dragging the Gunners through a rut with his club on his shoulders.
He is one of the hottest talents in the world, and it is time Saka is spoken as such. He isn’t just a domestic star, he has the potential to truly go all the way.