Bukayo Saka’s Determination Drives His Rise to Key Player in Arsenal’s Title Charge
Bukayo Saka has been performing exceptionally well this season, despite facing physical challenges from his opponents. As a rising star for both Arsenal and England, he has played a significant role in their surprising charge towards a Premier League title, which is showing no signs of slowing down as we approach mid-March.
Saka has been involved in 19 goals in the league so far, having scored 10 goals and provided nine assists. This places him third in the league behind only centre-forwards Erling Haaland and Harry Kane. His impressive performances have helped keep Arsenal five points ahead of Manchester City, and he has demonstrated a relentless combination of creativity and fighting spirit.
Saka’s outstanding contributions have been acknowledged with the Young Player of the Year award at the recent London Football Awards. However, he has also been targeted by opponents who have attempted various physical tactics to try to nullify his impact. Even the likes of Manchester City have tried to tackle him aggressively, which resulted in Bernardo Silva receiving a yellow card in their recent meeting.
After receiving similar treatment in the following game against Aston Villa, Saka displayed rare outburst of anger. This prompted Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta to announce that they would investigate whether there was any evidence to suggest that Saka was being deliberately targeted in recent weeks.
Despite being awarded 45 free kicks in his favour, Saka is currently the eighth most-fouled player in the Premier League. However, this number falls far behind Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace who has been awarded 64 free kicks. Some people at the Emirates Stadium are concerned about the number of fouls on Saka that go unpunished, causing consternation.
According to sources, Arsenal has been in regular communication with the referees’ body, PGMOL, regarding the issue of Bukayo Saka being targeted with fouls. However, Saka has not complained about the situation, as he believes that it will not make any difference. He acknowledges that he is always going to attract contact due to his playing style, and the focus should be on how many fouls he receives rather than complaining about them.
Saka’s calm demeanor could be attributed to his upbringing and his faith. He reads the Bible every night, and he is also known for his generosity, as he spends time taking selfies and signing autographs for fans after events. During Monday’s awards ceremony, which raised funds for the Willow charity, Saka was seen interacting with fans while also discussing his game. He prefers compliments other than being targeted with fouls.
“I just try to be as professional as possible, take care of myself,” he said. “Eat the best, sleep as much as I can. When I’m in training learn as much as I can and in the games just play 100%. I leave the rest in God’s hands.
“God’s been taking care of me. Some tackles, I could have been lucky but I wouldn’t call it luck. I believe in God and he’s taking care of me.
“I’ve just been staying fit and hopefully I can continue doing my best for Arsenal on the pitch so we can have some happiness at the end of the season now.”
As is typical of Arteta, he instructed Saka to concentrate on what he can control. The Spaniard believes Arsenal should be able to modify their use of the ball to reduce the risk of Saka being unfairly challenged.
“I think he’s talking about the type of balls I receive,” Saka explained. “For example, as a winger if you receive the ball on the touchline with my back to the defender, even if I’m the defender, I’d do the same: come in straight and fast, close you down.
“So of course there’s going to be a lot of pressure and a lot of contact. I think he’s talking about those type of balls, the type of balls where I don’t have much space to manoeuvre and the defender can close me down quickly and be really aggressive.
“People will know me more now, I’ve played more and more football, more and more at the higher levels as well so they will know more what my game is about. So they will be setting up plans to stop me of course and foul me and stuff like that.
“It is normal for most wingers. The same happens for most of the other wingers in our team when they play. I just have to keep adapting, keep adapting, learn how to play one vs. one, two vs. one, three vs. one, whatever it is. Just keep developing. That’s the beauty of the game. There’s always going to be something different every week. It is about me trying to break it down and ultimately winning the game.”
Saka’s determination and persistence have helped him rise from Arsenal’s Hale End academy to becoming a key player in the team’s title charge within just four years. He has played a significant role, having amassed 2,320 minutes of play time in all 27 league games this season, which is only exceeded by 11 outfield players in the entire league.
Despite his impressive performance, Saka believes he has not yet achieved the number of goals and assists he set for himself in August, which he has kept private. However, he believes that if he continues his current form, he will achieve his targets soon. With 11 Premier League games remaining, as well as a Europa League round of 16 second-leg clash against Sporting CP on Thursday, Saka is certain to be named in Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad for games against Italy and Ukraine later this month.
When asked about his freshness, Saka takes a moment to consider his response, indicating that there is no stopping in football.
“I’d say mentally, I’m just happy to be on the pitch,” he said. “If I put it to you this way: would I rather be injured or on the pitch, I want to be on the pitch. If I ask myself when I was younger where I would want to be, and it was on the pitch playing for Arsenal every week competing at the highest level, I’d take it.
“So, I’m happy. I just want to continue to push to the end of the season and then in the summer I can lock myself in my room and sleep for the rest of the summer.”