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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