A quick Interlull Saturday round-up for you. Is it quick because I want to have breakfast, take the dogs out, and then play some Playstation 5? If I speak, etc etc. But I am also Spiderman.
There’s good and bad news about Bukayo Saka to start. The good news is that he’s not going to join up with England during this international break (good news for Arsenal fans, anyway). The bad news, such as it is, is that the hamstring injury he’s been struggling with is obviously serious enough to prevent him fulfilling those international duties.
Maybe, and I say that with a very capital M, common sense has been applied. Maybe Gareth Southgate, having spoken to the Arsenal medical team and Mikel Arteta, believes the best thing for a 19 year old who is suffering the effects of a long, hard season so far, is to protect his interests, knowing he could be key for him at the European Championships and doesn’t want to take any risks. Maybe too (same capital M) he doesn’t feel like taking a risk and thus leaving Arsenal without a player for a prolonged period, although why he’d really care about that I don’t know.
Given that players have often gone away with their countries when not in great shape, with bits hanging off them, and tendons frayed like old twine on a gate post, I suspect this isn’t a situation where a national team manager is simply doing us a kindness. They don’t work that way, even mild-mannered accountants like Southgate. That leaves a scenario where the injury is of sufficient severity for him not to go away. Now, it could just be a regular old three week hammy, and fingers crossed that’s all it is, but I do worry a little about how much has been asked of him.
It’s interesting to hear Mikel Arteta talk about how much Saka wants to play, and in the build-up to West Ham he said:
He’s worked really hard, he really wanted to play. He was really upset he couldn’t be involved on Thursday and he made everything he could to try and be involved today.
He’s 19, of course he wants to play, and there’s no part of me that will criticise a player who shows the desire to push through and help his team. I also completely understand why, if one of your best players comes through fitness tests and trains as normal, you would pick him if you were the manager. Let’s be honest, it’s easy to leave out an average player if you’re not fully convinced of his fitness, much less so when it’s someone as important as Saka has been for us this season.
The job of a manager is to produce results, first and foremost, we know that, but at the same time there’s a need for a broader view. If you have a talent like Saka, you have to protect him too. At some point you have to take into account all those minutes, all those sprints, all those tackles, and make decisions for the player’s benefit – even if it means the team might suffer a little. Even if the player says he’s fine, use your judgement based on all the information available to you. I’d also say that when you have a £72m back-up for that position, your job in that regard is a little easier.
Arteta has, more than once, shown a willingness to make decisions which aren’t always popular, and don’t always make the team stronger, in order to instill/maintain the culture that he feels is fundamental. Big players have been sidelined, and it’s hard to do that. It’s also hard to leave out good players … because you need them, but ensuring the development of a young player like Saka isn’t inhibited or hampered by an injury caused by overplaying or fatigue is a really important part of the job too. It’s difficult, no question, and I’m sure the manager is aware of it, so let’s see what happens.
The fact that in recent weeks he has become a regular target for rotational fouling by the opposition adds another layer of concern. Good players always get kicked, that’s the reality of football, but you can’t not pick someone because you’re worried about what the opposition might do to them. Hopefully though, these two weeks of recuperation allow Saka to recuperate and recover properly, because we’re going to need him for this end of season push that lies ahead.
Right, let’s leave it there for this morning. Have a good Saturday, and remember if you’re looking for some Arsenal action, the women are playing in the North London derby today which I think you can watch via the FA Player (not sure if that works outside the UK though). Good luck to them!