What’s Going on With Bukayo Saka?
In a summer where Bukayo Saka’s reputation as Arsenal’s prized jewel has been enhanced to England’s latest sweetheart, one might be forgiven for assuming that the young unicorn rider would hit the ground running when the new Premier League season started. After all, Bukayo was one of the very few Arsenal stars who inspired some hope and confidence in Arsenal fans across the world, with his explosive dribbling and a fearless smile. There are popular players in every camp, at club or at international level, but very rarely have so many teammates waxed lyrical about a 19-year-old (now 20) playing his first handful of games for his team. However, Bukayo’s start to the season has been underwhelming by his own lofty standards, due to several possible reasons:
Euro 2020 Pain
Winning the Euro 2020 would have been a fairytale ending to Saka’s season, who would not have dreamed of playing in England’s first major tournament final in 51 years. Ending up on the losing side in such a massive game, at home, in a penalty shoot-out, having gone ahead earlier in the game, would have been soul-crushing for the entire team. This was made even more traumatic for the United pair Rashford & Sancho and Bukayo Saka, who had to suffer racial abuse from their own fans in the aftermath of their missed penalties in the shoot-out.
While Saka and co. have received a lot of support from the football community, so much so that even Spurs fans greeted him with warmth in pre-season, the whole experience must have left some scars on his mind. But Saka seems like a smart young man with good people around him and should be able to use his summer experience to grow stronger.
Rustiness and lack of proper pre-season
Saka’s first appearance of the pre-season was on 8th August, coming on as a 63rd minute substitute at the Toilet Bowl Arena Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, almost a month after Arsenal’s first pre-season game on 13th July. He’s featured in all Arsenal games this season despite a truncated pre-season (after making 57 appearances for club and country in the 20-21 season) and it is fair to say that he hasn’t been at his best so far. His touch has been heavy and has been unable to have the kind of impact on the game as we know he can. However, with no European football this season, he should have more time to recover and get sharper over the next few weeks.
Still a very young player
The Arsenal No. 7 might be one of the most promising youngsters to ever rise from the Arsenal Academy, and such has been his ascent and importance to the current Arsenal side that we may overlook the fact that he only turned 20 a few weeks ago, [you can insert your own joke as to what you were doing when you were his age]. As is perfectly normal with young players, the trajectory of growth is hardly ever linear; there will be small periods from time to time with slightly dipped form, but we all know what the lad is capable of and what better time to remind everyone of his quality than with a hat-trick against that lot at the weekend.
Difficult start to Arsenal’s season
With Arsenal putting up subpar performances in the first 3 premier league games, with 0 points and 0 goals scored, 2 of them against the European and English champions, it was hardly a great platform for Saka to shine with minimal control and possession of the ball. Opposition teams don’t really need a degree in sports to see the importance of Saka to Arsenal and the sight of defenders sticking tightly to him during the game has become fairly common. Additionally, Saka played his best football last season from the right wing which has been occupied by Nicolas Pepe this season and while Saka is perfectly capable of playing in all three roles behind the striker, it might do him and Arsenal some good if Pepe and Saka interchanged their positions more frequently during the game.
Despite a ‘difficult’ start to the new season for Saka, he did score a lovely goal in the League Cup against West Bromwich Albion and was heavily involved in both the Arsenal goals in the Premier league so far, with his movement and turn keeping the ball alive for Aubameyang to ultimately score the winner against Norwich, and winning the free kick against Burnley from which Odegaard scored last Saturday.
While one would expect Bukayo Saka to regain his form soon, it would be very welcome for Arsenal fans if he started the process this weekend against Spurs, because he is the brightest spark to the Arsenal fire that must rise to at least the European places in the table this season.