How Arsenal Can Stop The Bullies From Taking Liberties with Bukayo Saka

How Arsenal Can Stop Teams From Taking Liberties with Bukayo Saka by Eric

Arsenal have a Bukayo Saka problem. Well, not exactly. The problem isn’t with Bukayo Saka, it’s with the increasingly physical methods that defenders are employing to stop him from wreaking his special brand of havoc on defenses. Hardly a game goes by where Saka doesn’t pick himself up off the ground half a dozen times after being fouled much harder than the circumstances called for.

While it’s natural to expect last-ditch tackling from defenders to prevent one vs one scoring chances, it’s become clear that the tactics against Saka have crossed the line from physical to cynical. To his credit, Saka bears these tackles with class, but it’s clear the effects are starting to take a toll. Seeing him limping post game is almost a weekly occurrence and one can only imagine how swollen his ankles are beneath his ice-packs. That’s unacceptable.

These Tactics Are Not New

The cynical tackles that Saka is being exposed to are nothing new. In past years, everyone from Aaron Ramsey to Eduardo has fallen victim to teams thinking the best way to beat Arsenal was to hack the club’s players down at every opportunity. To say it went way too far is an understatement.

Bones were broken. Careers were ruined or permanently altered. Even though he came back, Eduardo’s horror show leg break was effectively a career ender. He was simply never the same player again.

Aaron Ramsey ended up having a better comeback, the highlight of which was his winning goal in the FA Cup final vs Hull City.

However, his injury record after Tony Pulis gave Stoke City’s thugs a mission to foul Arsenal players as hard as possible, stands as testimonial to the long-term damage Ramsey suffered. In spite of never having been out of shape or overweight. He was effectively finished as a footballer by his early 30’s because his legs simply wouldn’t hold him up. His injury wasn’t an accident. It was an inevitable consequence of footballing thuggery.

What’s Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander

Watching Bukayo Saka go to work down the right flank is one of the great joys for any Arsenal fan. His speed, lateral quickness and ball-handling ability have made him one of the most electrifying players in the world. The unfortunate downside to all that talent is that opposing teams have increasingly resorted to fouling him all night as their best defense against his brilliance.

The most recent example was last week’s Champions League fixture vs. Seville, where it was painfully obvious that taking chunks out of Saka was an essential part of their game strategy. The first iteration of the post-invincibles Arsenal was a small, undersized unit who simply didn’t have the size or the mentality to fight back. So, opposing teams essentially had free reign to take whatever liberties they wanted. That’s not the case anymore.

These days, Arsenal have numerous players over six feet tall who possess the brawn, and more importantly the temperament, to respond in kind. Yes, Arsenal wants to play football “the right way”, and that’s admirable. However, if Arsenal’s opponents insist on a diet of cynical fouls for Saka and Martinelli, it’s only natural that William Saliba, Gabriel, Ben White and Declan Rice respond in kind by serving up the same. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

It’s Time to Send a Message

Arsenal simply can’t afford to let football teams all over England and Europe think the only price for taking chunks out of Bukayo Saka will be an occasional yellow card. Mikel Arteta needs to sit down with the big, strong men on this football team and tell them to make sure opposing teams understand that Saka won’t be the only one limping off the pitch if the rough stuff continues.

Yes, that sounds harsh. But it’s a much more preferable option to a repeat of the injuries Ramsey and Eduardo suffered, because teams knew they could literally get away with murder against Arsenal. Teams are trying to bully Saka. Anyone who has ever spent time in a schoolyard knows the only language a bully responds to or respects is force. It’s high time Arsenal made teams respect the fact that we won’t be bullied by anyone. Ever.


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  1. The article is somewhat misleading. If a leftback like cucurrela tackles Saka can Saliba go up to cucurrela and rough him up too? They don’t play in the same zone and rarely will they meet due to positioning vis-a-vis rice. Left wing back of the opposition can’t be roughened up by rice or Saliba if he tackles saka unless the wingback comes in contact with rice which is hardly plausible because rice is Central and wingbacks are usually not on the lane where rice or Saliba might meet him to give him commepaunce . The best way to protect saka is when you have a rightback along side him who plays like a winger too. Timber is the solution but he is not available. White needs to get closer to him so as to free space. But white lacks the ball playing tactical acumen of timber to really play the wingback role. So saka will have to suck it up until timber comes back. Or arteta mandate white to help saka overload the wing play

    1. Yes, Olumuyizi, you’ve nailed it. Saka needs more effective support from his full back to free up space and put pressure on his markers.

    1. Good idea Gai. We saw a glimpse of this between him and Havertz. Unlike Odegaard, Havertz is not averse to holding the width/hugging the touchline,allowing Saka to drift inwards. Could be interesting to see what Odegaard can do if he is shifted to the left- we would no doubt lose his goals but he might get the best out of Martinelli, making us less dependent on our right flank.

      1. I’d prefer Zinchenko in the left-sided AM position instead of Odegaard, because of Zinchenko’s experience as a defender

        If we can sign Koopmeiners, I think he’ll do well too in that position

  2. Oh dear Eric! Calling for us to give back in kind, reminds me of a saying i heard way backwhen I was a boy and it is one I have always respected as being wise.

    The saying goes thus: An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth makes the whole world blind and toothless”.

    Its a true saying and a wiser, more mature person than you would REALISE that truth.

    So if our bigger, stronger players were to inflict SAKA like thuggery on opposition players, apart from retribution and the risk of red cards, you seem to be saying such foolish, short sighted, testosterone fuelled, idiotic, action would protect SAKA.

    How NAIVE can anyone be!!

  3. Saka needs protection and that has to come from the officiating officials, but most referees can’t manage a plate of food, so its useless.
    Until something gives, like Howard Webb throwing in his towel, we can only hope and pray for God protection of the kid.

    1. 100% Arteta needs to be more vocal about this before the match so referees actually do something. Frankly refereeing has become a bit of a joke. And not sure VAR is helping as gives the referee an out.

      Let them take all decisions and let’s teams each have 2-3 VAR reviews like they do in cricket

    2. You’ve hit the nail on the head again Gunsmoke.
      I understand why Eric has written the article, but he doesn’t mention referees once (at least I think that’s the case!!).
      They have to see what’s going on and should react to it immediately.

      I also note, with great pleasure, that someone above pointed out how Havertz, in the Burnley game, was allowing Saka to go infield, thereby taking the pressure away from him.

      What’s even more frustrating for me, is the fact that these fouls take place under the linesmans noses and, surely, they should bring these assaults to the attention of the referee?

      I would have thought by now Eric, you would have realized that, if we followed your plan of action, the referee would have no hesitation in sending off any Arsenal player, while taking no action against our opponents. who consistently foul

  4. Didn’t this happen to us last season against BHA when Caicedo took Martinelli out really. badly following his foul on Mitoma?
    We don’t need an enforcer, just more players in support.

  5. Havertz did well allowing Saka drift to the AM position, something Odegaard doesn’t do, we need a fast and strong Right AM as well as a Left AM, Zinchenko isn’t that strong but he seems to makeup with his ball handling, same as Trossard,

    Pasqueta comes to mind but he’ll cost a fortune,
    Hopefully we get some great signings in January 2024.

  6. Saka should stay down longer, look more in pain, make more of a meal of it, than it was, waste time getting treated. Make the blind refs and linesman more aware. They will soon cotton on. Change his game a little and draw more fouls in and around the box and then we can punish them. What i am saying is be a bit more cuter and streetwise. Turn the thing in his favour.

  7. I have another suggestion. arteta must sit down with the authorities and highlight the amount of fouls and hard tackles committed on Saka and insist the referees must take stronger action on opposing defenders when they hard tackle Saka and ensure Saka gets the necessary protection.

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