Arsenal Debate – Why does Arteta never drop Bukayo Saka even when his form dips?

Why is Saka ‘undroppable?’ by Dan Smith

He waited for our title fate to be out of our own hands, but Mikel Arteta on Tuesday finally wasn’t scared to make changes.

Our manager has improved the team drastically this season both as individuals and collectively.

One of the few criticisms against the Spaniard is that after 3 consecutive draws he had evidence that our talent was not handling the pressure. His response at the Etihad? Play his usual line-up with the same system.

Partey deserved to be dropped, with the last month proving he can’t be considered world class after going missing when it mattered.

It took too long for Jorginho to be trusted. Who better, for example, to come on at Anfield and be trusted to keep hold of the ball?

Trossard strangely hadn’t started since getting a hat trick of assists at Fulham and another one against Palace. In other words, the Belgian did nothing wrong to be dropped.

So don’t confuse this article for questioning why Trossard started against Chelsea, it’s more about who he replaced.

The irony is our boss is usually so ruthless once he can’t trust a player. He is happy for the club to pay talent to sit at home, will loan individuals out till their contracts expire, convince his employers to rip up deals, etc.

The Kroenke Family should have made it part of the job criteria that their coach get the best of the resources at his disposal. That was supposed to be Arteta’s strength at Man City.

For better or worse though the 41-year-old is not afraid to make big decisions, no matter the reputations he’s dealing with. His judgement has never been dictated to by what’s popular with the public. He’s true to his own convictions.

So, Saka seems to be the exception to the rule.

April and May is the time of year which separates the good from the great. Physically and mentally Saka has looked exhausted recently and could have benefited from a rest.

That’s not a criticism of the youngster. He’s 21, it’s understandable if the run in has just been too big a step.

Yet some Gooners seem to agree with the boss, with their being little sympathy for Martinelli finding himself on the bench in midweek.

The same age as Saka, the Brazilian scored and made our other goal at Liverpool.

He got another assist at the London Stadium; the same ground Saka couldn’t keep a penalty on target.

He was then on the scoresheet against Southampton.
So, in the 4 occasions where Arsenal dropped points, Martinelli contributed to 4 goals compared to Saka’s 2 against the Saints.

With Trossard able to play anywhere across the front three I would have liked the media to ask what has Saka done better recently then Martinelli.

I’m not sure if it’s due to his Man City links or hiding behind his long-term injury, but some of our fan base find it easier to critique Jesus. I have heard some say that tactically we haven’t improved since the striker’s been fit. Again, though his output has been better then Saka’s. A goal at Anfield and the London Stadium, and at home to Chelsea.

Not just the stats though.

Jesus was fearless on Merseyside and against the Hammers, always coming deep to demand the ball, holding it up and winning fouls.

While some shied away and made the easy pass, Jesus took responsibiliy, wanting to be the one to make things happen.

So, on form our front three should be Trossard, Jesus and Martinelli.

It won’t be.

For someone who preaches not accepting a drop in standards, Arteta should be asked why? Our manager won’t tell us, nor will the media if supporter’s demand to know why?

Saka is the exception to the rule.


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  1. Dan, Saka is the exception to the rule because he is probably our best player. Don’t lose faith in him so quickly. Despite scoring a few goals lately, Jesus is the one I think should be doing more. Thierry always used to tell Pires “I’ll see you in the box”. Jesus isn’t getting into enough good positions in that very place. That’s why we need a stone cold killer centre forward (old school) whose sole purpose in life is to put the ball in the net. It’s great they’ve all chipped in with goals though.

      1. I rate Martinelli highly too, but it’s Jesus who should make way (for Trossard) in my opinion. It’s delicate with those four ‘cos they are all fine players (including Jesus), but I want Jesus to do more and to stop crying all the time.

        1. Do you not think Jesus has not played better then Saka recently ?
          Goal at Anfield, London Stadium and home to Chelsea
          Did he not play better in those games

          1. Dan, true Saka has definitely dipped, but like Arteta, I don’t think he should be dropped. Believe it or not, last season I’d sometimes get impatient with Saka because I thought every time he’d have a purple patch he’d then go quiet for the next three or so games, afterwhich he’d come back again and do the business. Sorry, does that make sense. This season he’s been full on all the way up to recently. So I’m thinking, maybe like last season he’s gone missing but is due to have a killer game which could possibly be today. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

      2. So do all knowing Gooners, Dan.

        I could not agree more with you on MARTINELLI


  2. Is 21 really young these days in football terms. Saka’s on an adult salary !
    Although it’s not the best idea to compare new with old, I’m going to mention Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Charlton, Pele, Maradona, Rooney, all teenagers and REALLY young when hitting the headlines. Yes one could say they were exceptional players, but do you get my drift?

    1. Well said
      Also teams are starting to double up on him which disappoints me at times as we should then be able to exploit our left side more.
      He has been our star player for a few season now and still only 21

      1. Alanball08, my God I’ve missed you. Just this morning I said to myself, “Where can Alan be” ?
        Bakayo is now an experienced international player who has represented us at two major senior tournaments. There’s far too much mention of youth these days. It’s just an excuse. And you and I haven’t even mentioned the ginger genius who was 18 in ’66. Ooops, I have now.

        1. That’s the thing,many people do not differentiate between young and inexperienced.yes,we have a young team but pretty experienced,full of internationals/captains TP,KT,Xhaka, Jorginho….even our young players like Saliba,Saka,MØ,Ramsdale..are more experienced than most players of their age or even older.

          1. Well said Sir. It is so annoying to hear the same lazy old excuses and cliches virtually all those well paid TV pundits come up with. They have no imagination at all. Then those cliches catch on like wildfire and Joe Public follows fashion.

  3. Remember, after Auba signed extension, Arteta stuck with him eventhough he was dip in form and Laca was better in form.

  4. Maybe because:

    – There is no other specialist inverted RW in the squad. Vieira doesn’t specialize in that role and Cozier-Duberry is still too inexperienced to be a starter in EPL

    – Arsenal are trying to convince Saka about his future and want him to sign his contract as soon as possible, by giving him many games and set-piece chances

    – Our conventional RWs aren’t pacy enough to be starters on the right wing. Trossard and Nelson played badly in that position in the first halves of the games

    1. Two things you always include in your post:
      1. Man City
      2. Inverted RB/LW/RW/LW
      I’m wandering if you sell inverter 😜

    2. Would it hurt to play Jesus there and let Eddie have another run? We played out best football of the season with him in the team.

  5. Saka is a great talent and having a great season but his form has dipped of late and should be on the bench at Newcastle Trossard has to start in his place very unlucky to be left out the starting line up after the form he has showed but having said that I don’t think Arteta will drop Saka expecting him to start today but not confident with the outcome think Newcastle will win 3-1!

    1. MARK, I think todays result is not massively important now, as City are not going to drop four points in their four remaining games. Not in REALITY land!

      I KNOW we need to finish as close to them as possible but it WILL be behind them now , not in front. THAT chance is now gone sadly!

  6. I honestly beleive the lack of rotation has cost us. I have commented alot saying that a lack of rotation causes 3 things.

    1. Fatigue, its obvious saka is tired. We saw martinelli dip then get injured and come back and score a great amount of goals. Players need rest and this js why pep rotates and SAF used to also

    2. Complacency, I personally think that subconsciously a few players get a bit lazy and stop putting in 110%. I will allow you guys to decide who that is.

    3. Contempt. Imagine how Trodsard, ESR, Reiss nelson, Jerginho, holding, KT all these guys must feel. Doesn’t matter how good of a job you do saving arsenal’s Bacon and killing it. As soon as the Gaffers favourite is back you are a bench warmer. How dumb.

    I hope arteta fixes this next season. If you want a full squad you can depend on you have to make rotations here and there. Look at how good players like KDB and Mahrez are and you never know if there are gonna play or are on the bench. Either way when pep slots them in it works because the ENTIRE squad are used to playing together

    1. Arteta didn’t rotate since he can’t trust most bench players. Tomy, Tierney, Jorginiho and Trossard are the only ones of any real quality. Tomey and Trossard were used quite a lot, Jorginiho is fine but is a real drop in quality compared to in-form Partey, and Tierney did not adjust to Arteta’s inverted-LB requirements. Kiower might come good but Arteta gave him time to adapt.
      The rest of the squad players are mediocre at best and Arteta does not trust them, and probably rightly so, and plays them only if there is no other option. Holding, Elneny, Viera, Nelson, Neketia, Sambi never showed they have what it takes to play for top-level sides. EMS is fine in scoring and ball-carrying, but I suspect Arteta did not play him because he did not adapt to the high-press high-tempo game we play this season. Watching him last season, it does not seem he has what it takes to perform in this system.
      So, I believe Arteta did not really have a lot of other options – more rotations would have meant a sharp drop in quality. The problem is squad depth, and not just in terms of numbers but of quality. I still think we should have over-payed for Caicedo, that could make a little difference between 2nd and 1st. Next season we need 5-6 top players if we to repeat the run we had in the EPL this season while playing CL.

    2. TRUE, although its easy to rotate when you have Citys squad.

      Far less easy to do, though still possible but to a lesser extent, when you have our shallower squad. Necessary context!

  7. I think it wouldn’t be wise to bench Saka, he’s been our best player, alongside Martineli, I think the midfield is where players should be shuffled, Trossard should be drafted in the midfield to strengthen it as Odegaard keeps disappearing in matches with alot of physicality.

  8. My opinion is that Arteta does not have a player he trusts enough to play on the RW. It could be the reason Arsenal has been linked with left-footed wingers such as Raphinha,Mudryk,and Pedro Neto.Trossard has played there once for Arsenal but he was not as effective as he normally is on the left or centrally. Despite getting an assist in that match,I would still say he wasn’t as effective as the out of form Saka.

    Another reason why Saka plays in my opinion is that even when he doesn’t effect games,he still contributes indirectly. Often,Saka is double teamed by defenders. This creates space for others to pick a pass or take a shot.Odegaard has been a beneficiary of this.

    Finally,there’s a theory that when a player is out of form,particularly a key player,the best cause of action is to keep playing them until they regain their form.After the world cup for instance,there were two key players that seemed out of form but Arteta kept playing them until they regained their earlier form – Saliba and Martinelli.

    You rightly mention that Saka missed a penalty whereas Martinelli got an assist in the same game. What you didn’t mention is that Martinelli also missed a crucial penalty that got us out of Europa League. I don’t see Martinelli getting criticism for that penalty miss. Anyone can miss a penalty. All time greats like Messi and Cristiano have missed crucial penalties. One of the best penalty takers of this generation,Harry Kane ,missed a crucial one at the World cup. It happens!

    You mention output. Over the course of this season,Saka has the most goal contributions in the team at 24! His assists tally of 11 is only bettered by Kevin De Bruyne. Arguably our best player,he still is the player most likely to create something out of nothing. The fact that he has managed to keep his head up despite the abuse he has received in the past is testament to his character and mental strength- two attributes that are needed in this team.

  9. When the attacking front struggles, inevitably Martinelli is the one dropped for some odd reason. 15 goals leads the team, always 100% effort on both sides of the ball, and was in form as well.

    Saka failed to track back how many times in Chelsea game?

    Not just Saka but Jesus as well. Trossard has been brilliant making the team purr and gets immediately dropped for Jesus.

    Certain players are automatic with Arteta and don’t have to play their way back in.

    Jesus, Saka, Odegaard, Xhaka, White, Zinchenko, Gabriel, and Ramsdale.

    1. Martinelli has started 1 less game than Saka in the league 32 vs 33. That game was after a bad run of form. Funny how narratives develop that can be instantly disproved by statistics. Worth noting those you mentioned as favourites have in order 20, 33, 33, 32, 32, 32, 25, 34 and 34 starts compared to Martinelli’s 32 starts.

  10. If you don’t rotate then its almost certain it will catch up with you eventually as very few players can maintain top form through a whole season. Tired players are also more likely to get injured. As far as this season goes its already too late as its now City’s title to lose not Arsenal’s to win. But next season there will be the Champions League and two important games a week. So getting rotation working properly will become even more important.

  11. I might start sounding like a broken record but it is because of those exact decisions made by MA, that I find it difficult to believe his claims that he picks players up based on form!!then again, I’m not present at the training sessions.

  12. I agree with this article, last few games Saka has dipped in form. Absolutely nothing wrong with benching him and giving him a rest as he’s started nearly every single game this season. Trossard absolutely can fill in for him and from what I’ve seen, can be trusted to do a good job across the front three. I know you do sometimes have to play someone back into form but to be honest, I think Saka’s form started drifting over the last two months, he looked a diminished version of himself by the time we played Liverpool and maybe should have been dropped after that for a couple of games and slotted back in for Chelsea refreshed and hungry, in preparation for our Newcastle match. This is just my opinion and it comes from the viewpoint that the team comes before any one player, no matter who they are and what they’ve done previously. Don’t get me wrong, I still think he is one of our best players but nothing wrong in taking him out the fray for a couple of games for a rest and to resharpen his mindset.

  13. What scares me is the fact that MA(according to himself)prefers to work with a smaller squad than most, which includes
    3 GK’s .

    1. Shouldn’t scare you given that is precisely how Man City have always and continue to operate under Guardiola. Go through the City squad it’s not big.

      1. You’re right,I just checked it and surprisingly, it’s a 24 players squad.MA said that his perfect squad number is 25 players (3 GK’s+22 outfield).I guess it comes down to squad management again.

  14. I DO take DANS mainpoint. One could be forgiven for sometimes thinking that the worn out and out of form SAKA gets a managewrs favouriyte treatment I WAS GOBSMACKED that MA chose to start thr magnetic MARTINELLI ON THT BENCH.
    I am the first to agree that our squad depth is nowhere near Citys. Which is all the more reason to pick and use those in form and who ALWAYS give their utmost in every game, no matter what.

    And to rest clearly jaded players who are not doing the business, however good they were when at their best.


    I confess to being a HUGE fan of MARTINELLI.
    If I explain that to me he is the polar opposite of OZIL, in character and energy, perhaps ypou will understand why I SO APPRECIATE HIM!

  15. Totally agree with the premise of the article that we need to be able to rotate more. That is why our summer recruitment is so important so we can add that rotation.

    Believe we struck gold with Trossard in that regard but we need someone to rotate with Saka and none of our options are at home on the right outside him and maybe Nelson who looks set to leave and still had question marks. We need more quality depth in the middle of the midfield. We could use another RB. Outside that LB if Tierney goes because he’s unhappy at not starting every week, maybe a Striker if we sell Balogun, could be a good chance for Eddie to play week in and week out at a decent club on loan.

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