Bukayo Saka: The Best of Arsenal’s Young Crop?

Bukayo Saka: The Best of Arsenal’s Young Crop?


Cast your minds back to 30 September. Arsenal are playing ​Manchester United at Old Trafford. BT Sport is relentlessly boring you, pushing the Fergie versus Wenger narrative down your throat, trying to really ramp up a tie that lost its glamour a fair few years prior. 

However, amid the flashy compilations and ex-players talking up the game, Arsenal manager Unai Emery names Bukayo Saka in his starting lineup. Now, it wasn’t the first time that Saka had played this season, but it was just the second. His first saw him complete 45 minutes against ​Aston Villa as Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ red card meant a tactical shuffle at half-time. 

The game itself was devoid of any great quality. A turgid affair to match the turgid build-up. However, there was a shining light in that game. The youngest man ever to start a Premier League fixture between Manchester United and Arsenal; Bukayo Saka.


Adaptability

​​Saka has always been highly regarded throughout the different Arsenal age groups at Hale End. Often playing above his station, Saka made his way through the Arsenal youth set-up exceptionally quickly. The winger played only one season in the Premier League 2 team at 17, progressing a year later, a trait of exceptionally gifted players.

Immediately hitting the ground running, Saka has shown an adept ability to create chances and score goals. Remarkably, he has been directly involved in ten goals in all competitions for Arsenal this season (three goals and seven assists) – only Gabriel Martinelli (13) and ​Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (17) have been involved in more for the Gunners in 2019-20, per Opta.

Not only has he been immediately competitive in Premier League football at 18, but he’s been brilliantly resilient. An injury crisis at left-back meant that Saka had to be used out his natural position. In some substitute appearances under Emery, Saka was playing in the number ten role so he was certainly a ‘fish out of water’.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles,Oli McBurnie

In this team, Saka has a direct comparison in how he is adapting – Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Maitland-Niles at right-back has had his fair share of difficult performances. Following criticism in September, the Englishman told the press: “I’m not a defender.”

Whatever you think of Maitland-Niles, it’s not a strong look to publicly air your grievances at being played out of position. At the time, the team had no cover, needed him to continue to play there and also it showcased an inability to let his football do the talking. 

Perhaps when Saka has a few bad games at left-bac, he might react in a similar way. Firstly, Saka hasn’t played a bad game yet. One very noticeable quality is his strength on the ball, incredible for his slight physique, as he rarely getting pushed off the ball. He has supreme athleticism that’s fantastic to watch.


Future at Left-Back?

Bukayo Saka

As Tierney and Kolasinac make their respective returns from injury, you would expect Saka to push further forward. However, a left-wing combination of Martinelli and Saka has Arsenal fans drooling. One might argue that playing him in a defensive role, you might take away what he can contribute up top. 

However, Trent Alexander-Arnold’s play this season shows how modern players can dominate games from the back. Arsenal have a technically gifted player, who gives so much going forward, with intelligent passing, endless running and an eye for goal. 

A player who is so dynamic from a defensive position is a rarity that all great teams have possessed over the years. Lahm for Germany and Bayern, Alves at ​Barcelona, Marcelo at ​Madrid, Roberto Carlos and Cafu for Brazil. We’re certainly getting ahead of ourselves, but if Saka has half the career of one of those players, what a career he’ll have had.


Best of the Lot?

Eddie Nketiah

In what’s been a depressing season, Arsenal’s young crop can keep the fans dreaming. ​Who’s been the best? Let’s quickly run through:

Reiss Nelson has fallen away a little bit of late but his play in the Bundesliga last year can keep fans optimistic. A recent scruffy goal against ​Leeds will hopefully boost his confidence.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been up and down, being played out of position and ultimately, receiving a fair amount of criticism. It was good to see him being played in his correct position on Tuesday night and he has more to give. 

Joe Willock had his best game this season against ​Bournemouth but hasn’t been able to make the grade in the first team. He plays a tall and athletic game, however, it would be great to see some more end product. 

Gabriel Martinelli

Eddie Nketiah keeps scoring for whoever he’s playing for but wasn’t able to break into Bielsa’s Leeds. 

Gabriel Martinelli has been a standout this season, with pace, finishing ability and skill clearly on show. The Brazilian could be Arsenal’s player of the season but has scored plenty of his goals in the Europa League and Carabao Cup.

So where does that leave Saka? He’s been by far the most consistent performers out of these six, contributing against every level of opponent. Saka is also the youngest and rarely gets substituted.

It’s not for 90min to decide, but whatever the case, the future’s bright, the future’s red – the future could be Bukayo Saka for Arsenal.





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