Thursday, February 29, 2024

Saka, and the future …

Morning all.

Hope you’re still feeling good after that thrashing we inflicted on West Ham on Sunday. As ever, Andrew’s quotes round-up made for good reading. The bleak, thousand yard stare of Vladimir Coufal’s thoughts were apparent in text format. I don’t know if he has a dog, but if he does, even the pure, unadulterated love you get from man’s best friend would have been of no comfort to him on Sunday evening.

I also very much enjoyed Bukayo Saka’s thoughts when interviewed by Sky. After scoring his 50th and 51st goals for the club, and making it 100 goal contributions in total, he said:

To be honest, I’m really happy to achieve that, but I’m not sure I can be happy today. I missed some chances that I thought I could have scored, you know, but obviously it’s a great achievement, so I’m proud of that.

The discussion about how good Bukayo Saka is, is kind of redundant at this point. Anyone with eyes can see that for themselves, and to augment it they can look at his output. For club and country so far this season he has 20 goals and 14 assists, and as I said yesterday, it doesn’t feel like we’ve quite seen him at his absolute best. Which makes that kind of output from a 22 year old even more impressive.

The question really is: how good can Bukayo Saka become? He’s clearly very ambitious and very driven, saying after West Ham:

I have my own targets. I know the media like to compare players a lot but I just try to stay in my own lane and stay focused on what I wanted to achieve at the start of the season. I’m still going and I’ve got quite a few more to go.

I’m sure those targets are a mix of individual and collective. Maybe he’s looking to hit the 20 goal mark, something I think he’s capable of, and that would put him in the mix with some of the best wide forwards ever to play in the Premier League. Add more assists to that (he has 11 in the Premier League and Champions League combined) and we’ve got a player making a significant number of goal contributions in a season. Which may then feed into those collective targets which will be about Arsenal achieving success and winning a trophy.

It’s no surprise either that he is our most fouled player, in both the Premier League and Champions League, drawing an average of 2.4 fouls per game in Europe and 2.1 domestically. This, unfortunately, is what happens to the best players. We all worry about how often he gets kicked, but it is a direct consequence of how dangerous he is. I think it’s a testament to his mentality that he has never allowed himself to be cowed or intimidated by some of the physical treatment he has received. He’ll get up, go again, and his response is to try hurt the opposition in return … with the ball.

The penalty against West Ham on Sunday was another little demonstration of his character too. He missed a crucial one last season, and although the way the rest of that campaign played out the way it did for other reasons, it must have been on his mind. It was at 2-1 last season, he could have made it 3-1, instead we drew 2-2. On Sunday it was 1-0, another kind of turning point in the game, and he was willing to take the responsibility. None of this ‘I was the one fouled so someone else can take it stuff’ (which always felt a bit more about superstition than anything else).

All of which is to say that what we have with Saka now is so exciting, and what we could get if he continues on this arc will be even more so. We are witness to an Arsenal Academy player not just breaking through for his club and his country, but potentially becoming one of the very best players in the world. When was the last time that happened? Cesc Fabregas? Even then, does his arrival at 16 from Barcelona put him in a slightly different category? I suppose you have to acknowledge Ashley Cole, although where he ended up (and how) leaves an obvious strain on his Arsenal legacy. Before that, is it Liam Brady?

That’s some company to keep, and given what we know about his desire to continue improving and contributing, maybe one of his individual targets is to become the best ever to emerge from Hale End. And what a privilege it will be to see him try and make that happen.

Till tomorrow.

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