Bukayo Saka has endured some journey, that young boy with dreams coming on as a filler in the left-back position is on the path to become one of the best right-wingers in the world. Well, if you aren’t PFA – he most definitely was the best youngster in the recently concluded campaign and on an unpopular opinion: was only second to Mohamed Salah in his position in the Premier League. Saka has took on dreams of millions of England and Arsenal fans on his young shoulders, and when you watch him play – you widen your shoulder with pride…
Born in Ealing, Greater London some 13 miles off the Emirates Stadium, Saka was born to Nigerian parents and attended Edward Betham Church of England Primary School. As a young kid, Saka did extremely well in his academics, gaining high grades in his GCSEs, achieving four A’s and three A’s.
Prior to joining Arsenal’s Hale academy at the age of seven, Saka had also tried out for Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. At just age 17, Saka was handed his first professional contract with the club and was also promoted to the under-23 side. Shortly after watching this great talent emerge from the academy first team manager Unai Emery decided to give a chance to youngsters and as a result, Saka played his first professional game when he came on for Aaron Ramsey in the 66th minute against Vorskla Poltava in a Europa League fixture. Shortly after he made history as he became the first player born in the 21st century to play in a Premier League game.
The Gunners were in a bit of a left-back crisis when both of their starting left-back Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolašinac got injured. Mikel Arteta, who had just replaced Unai Emery after a difficult start to the season, decided to play Saka as a left-back. And it worked! There is a theory that wingers can become great wing-backs or full-backs due to their understanding and the reading of the game. Whether Arteta knew this or maybe there was another reason but this worked! Saka was a revelation offensively and defensively. Not only did he manage to contribute 7 goals that season but he also managed to calm an Arsenal defence which let in goals for fun.
After years and years of toxicity and tensions between the fans and the first team was now bridging mainly due to the emergence of Bukayo Saka and other Hale End academy prospects like Emile Smith Rowe, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson, Folarin Balogun, Eddie Nketiah. Fans once again identified themselves with this new team which built on philosophies laid out by Arsene Wenger.
HIS BREAKTHROUGH SEASON OF 2021/22
After scoring eight goals and assists in a massively underperforming Arsenal side, Mikel Arteta took the decision to play Saka on the right-wing. And the risk paid off handsomely. Along with Arsenal’s young core of attackers which included Martin Ødegaard, Emile Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli & Eddie Nketiah, Saka improved Arsenal’s attack.
The previous campaign Arsenal took just 12 shots per game, which was very poor given the Gunners’ insistence on playing attacking football with 3.7 shots on target resulting in 55 goals. But this year all these numbers saw a big uptick. Shots taken went to 15 per match (for context teams like Liverpool and Man City average somewhere near 19 per game) while efforts that landed on target rose to 5 and most importantly they scored 61 goals.
Saka was a huge part of this attacking upgrade contributing to 4.2 shots creating actions per match with 7 more players only more influential last season which included players like Alexander-Arnold and Kevin de Bruyne.
This image clearly shows the positions Saka has been occupying in the past season. He is making fewer passes and touches in build-up play but he is taking more touches in the final third-ranking him in the 94th percentile of all players playing in the top five leagues of Europe while he is making 8 progressive carries per match. With great accuracy, lower body strength and the ability to wiggle away from markers clearly show the mark of the player undergoing an evolution.
IS ARSENAL TOO SAKA DEPENDENT?
Bukayo Saka’s rise to be one of the best attackers in the league also means teams are allocating more time and resources to prepare for the threat that he poses to their teams. Arsenal needs to strengthen their attack by bringing in players of Saka’s quality. He is currently getting fouled two times per game while players like Mohammed Salah who plays in a Liverpool team gets fouled less (0.7 times per match). Bringing in players like Gabriel Jesus who currently is linked strongly with a move to Emirates Stadium will help Saka to get rid of markers, allowing more space for him to operate.
Also, the English International needs to keep up the conditioning he did until now and stay free from injuries. Every season he will play more than 50 games and a serious injury will dent any aspirations that Arsenal have for the future.
All being said, there could be a season where Saka does not perform well but hopefully, the Gunners faithful will remain patient and allow him to develop. We just have to imagine that if Saka is not currently in his prime, what will do when he reaches it. Only the sky’s the limit for this great youngster!