The rise of Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka has been incredible to watch. From being an academy Hale End boy to getting promoted to the Arsenal first team squad, to receiving a call up to the England International team.
One of the best prospects to come out of the Arsenal academy since Jack Wilshere, the 19-year-old is next up and he is grabbing his chance at Arsenal with both hands. So let’s take a look at why Saka is indeed a star of the future.
Although Saka regularly impressed in the Arsenal Under 18’s and 21’s teams some people were not always convinced that he had what I took to get into the Arsenal first team.
Former Arsenal academy manager Andries Jonker stated that:
He was a left-winger, always long, tall and strong. Could run faster than his team-mates or the opponents, shoot harder than them. It was such a physical advantage that we questioned whether he was that good. Because of his physical advantage, it was easy to doubt whether he was really a good player technically.
Those doubts would not last long at all as Saka continued to dominate his opponents at youth level and started to make a bit of a name for himself around the club. He was doing so well that at the young age of just 17 he was promoted to the Arsenal first team squad and given his debut coming on in the 68th minute in a 3-0 away win at FC Vorskla Poltava.
His progression into the first team would only get better as he would go onto make his Premier League debut only a few months later in a 4-1 victory against Fulham. Only a few footballers can say that they played in a European and Premier league match before they even hit the age of 18, which shows just how special of a talent Bukayo Saka truly is.
A few qualities that set Bukayo Saka apart from his contemporaries are his crossing and ball carrying abilities and also how versatile he has proven to be. He is capable of whipping in a cross right between the final defender and the goalkeeper which is a skill that many wingers take years to perfect, but for the talented Englishman, it seems to come naturally.
Saka possesses the ability to beat a couple of players in tight positions, when there appears to be no way out Saka finds a way. He is very direct and looks to beat his full back or play a one-two to get in behind the opposition’s defence and whip in a dangerous cross.
Since Saka has been promoted to the first team he has played in many positions, whether to cover for an injury or just to add a certain quality to the starting line-up Arsenal did not have. Saka has featured at left back, left wing back, left wing, centre midfield, and on the right wing. Impressively, no matter where Arsenal have played him he has not once looked out of his depth.
If there is one area in Saka’s game he has to improve in it is his weaker right foot. At times Saka struggles to be as accurate on his right foot as he is on his left, which can make it a little easier for players to defend against him. If Saka were to improve on his weaker foot he would be almost unstoppable and be able to add more goals to his game when playing in a more advanced position on the pitch.
As Arsenal have been in the Europa League in recent years it has allowed them to give opportunities to young players. Saka would use these opportunities to show management exactly why he should get more of a chance when it comes to Premier League fixtures.
Saka would go on to score his first senior goal for Arsenal with a beautiful curling effort against Eintracht Frankfurt and claim two wonderful assists in a 3-0 win in Germany. After his starring role against Frankfurt, it was clear to see that Saka was ready to fight for a starting spot at Arsenal and he was subsequently given more game time in the Premier League.
A few months passed by and Arsenal was struck with major injury problems they were left with no recognised left back in their first team squad, as Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac both suffered long term injuries. With very few options available Bukayo Saka would become the regular first team left back. Saka had rarely ever played the position before, but you wouldn’t have thought so as he slotted in effortlessly.
Arsenal would switch between a four and five at the back formation throughout the 2019-20 season. Meaning that getting the opportunity to play left wing back would give Saka more of a license to get further forward. Saka relished the opportunity to play slightly further forward and scored his first ever Premier League goal in an impressive 2-0 away win against Wolverhampton Wanders.
Saka excelled throughout the rest of the campaign as he finished the 2019-20 season with four goals, 11 assists, and endless amounts of solid defensive displays.
Saka was rewarded for his excellent season at Arsenal with a new £30k a week contract, giving him a significant increase on his original £3k a week wage. Arsenal Coach Mikel Arteta said at the time:
I think he represents every value that this football club stands for. He has come through the academy and earned his respect with hard work and accountability and you can see the progression that he is having as a player but as well as a person.
Arsenal and England 2020-Present
Saka started the 2020 campaign in good form, already scoring 1 goal and claiming 2 assists in 11 games. He is now one of the first names on the Arsenal team sheet and his displays for Arsenal caught the eye of England manager Gareth Southgate as on the 1st of October 2020 Bukayo Saka received his first ever call up into the senior England International squad.
After scoring an important goal in Arsenals 2-1 win against Sheffield Utd Saka stated:
It’s been a really special week with the call-up, going through to the next round of the Carabao Cup and now getting the win again and scoring the goal.
Saka would give a good account of himself in a 3-0 victory over Wales and put in excellent performances in wins against both Ireland and Iceland.
On the 21st of November 2020, Bukayo Saka was voted 9th on the prestigious 2020 Golden Boy Award list, highlighting how much potential he has as the original list starts at 40 plus exceptional nominees.
Bukayo Saka has every tool it takes to be a future star of the game. At the young age of 19, he has his whole career ahead of him. Saka plays with an intelligence and skill level of a seasoned professional, so the thought of how he will play when he is in his prime years is a frightening prospect.
It has been extremely remarkable how he has taken every step up in his career in his stride with ease so far. If Saka continues to develop and perform how he currently is there is no doubt that he will be a mainstay in both the Arsenal and England teams for many years to come.