Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Saka’s hamstring – don’t risk it further

Morning all.

You’ll forgive me today if I eschew all the headlines in the English press about plucky little Newcastle beating PSG in the Champions League. Sportwashing 4-1 Sportwashing. I truly hope everyone associated with both clubs has an unscratchable itch on their ringpiece until the end of time.

We have more important things to worry about, and it has been reported that Bukayo Saka – not at all surprisingly given the way he gestured – has suffered a hamstring strain, and that obviously makes him a huge doubt for Sunday’s game against Man City. We thought that for once the football gods did us a small favour ahead of this game when Rodri picked up a red card and a suspension, but clearly they just spent 48 hours reffing a game in the UAE and lo and behold we’ve got a bit back.

I know all about Saka’s durability and his powers of recovery, but right now I’m making my peace with him not being available for the weekend. It’s a situation complicated by the fact that there’s an Interlull, and if England see Saka play for Arsenal, they might feel well within their rights to call him up for games he probably needs to miss. Unfortunately, there’s no quick-fix for hamstring strains.

‘But!’, I hear you cry. ‘What if Saka does what Ben White did against Newcastle, as outlined by Rob Holding in a podcast interview?!’

Rob said, “When we played Newcastle away in the Amazon year , he would have had a grade two/grade three hamstring injury easily. His hamstring was shot to hell and he went out there and played.

“He’s a mentality monster, I don’t know how he does it. It’s mental.”

Well, the reason Ben White did that – and credit to him for it – is because we didn’t have any defenders. Our defensive options on the bench that day, in a game in which we also lost Takehiro Tomiyasu to injury, were Cedric and Zak Swanson – now at Portsmouth. So, beautiful Ben pushed himself to the limit for the team, but he was basically wrecked and could barely run. I don’t need to remind you of the result of that game, or the quality of our performance.

Plus, we all want Bukayo Saka to recover properly, and if that requires a couple of weeks on the sidelines, then I’m going to hope that’s what happens. Far better to miss him for one game, albeit against the best team in the league, than to risk him and to aggravate it further. Hamstring injuries are usually pretty mild and routine, but take risks and you can spend months out. Ask Kieran Tierney who just reefed his playing for Real Sociedad and may require surgery, or Lukas Podolski who spent more than three months out after a full-on hamstring tear playing for us in the past.

As I said yesterday, even if I understand completely why he was picked against Lens, I think Mikel Arteta ought to have taken Sunday into account with his team selection. Of course that hamstring strain could have happened in training later in the week, or during the City game – we’ll never know, but the reality is it happened on Tuesday and that requires us to deal it with it now.

First and foremost for me is the welfare of the player, and making sure he recovers so something like this doesn’t become an ongoing issue. You can’t look for him to be rested for what are considered ‘lesser’ games if you’re prepared to just throw him out there with an injury because it’s Man City. I think those viewpoints are incompatible. If a manager takes a risk with a team selection, he has to be prepared to deal with the consequences if it doesn’t come off. Tuesday was the risk, Saka picked up a strain, and even if it’s just a mild issue, pushing him to play on Sunday feels like venturing into the realms of foolhardiness.

The bigger question is who exactly we might use out there if Saka is going to miss this game, but with a few days left before Sunday and the manager’s press conference tomorrow when we might get a bit more information, let’s park that one for now. We have plenty of time to go over all the various options and permutations.

For now have a great Thursday.

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