Jamie Carragher marvelled in his“composure and quality“ on the chunk. The famously hard-to-please Roy Keane spoke up his“beautiful“ performance. Even his approval was lent by Cesc Fabregas. „Saka is a participant,“ he composed Twitter. „Eighteen years old and showing good maturity.“
Arsenal and Manchester United’s 1-1 draw at Old Trafford last month was yet another reminder of just how far the 2 clubs have dropped since the times of the epic rivalry, a gruesome affair. To get Bukayo Saka, however, it also provided a platform to enhance a reputation.
At 25 days old, and making just his seventh appearance for Arsenal and 18 decades, Saka became the youngest player to start a Premier League game between the 2 sides. And in a ground where players much older than him have crumbled, there was evidence of his inexperience.
In fact, the starting place of Saka appears more protected than that of the 72m Nicolas Pepe. Unai Emery explained Saka within an“significant player“ following the Manchester United game and started him again in the 1-0 win over Bournemouth. The academy graduate will be assured of maintaining his place from Sheffield United on Monday Night Football.
And why shouldn’t he be?
Saka provided the first glimpses of his raw talent last year – most especially with his man-of-the-match showing against Qarabag in the Europa League – but, similar to one of his own driving runs Arsenal’s left flank, his advancement has gained momentum in the new campaign.
The winger scored his first senior goal in the 3-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt last month, finding the bottom corner using a curling end from 25 metres out, and there also have been three assists, including the intelligent through-ball for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s equaliser in Old Trafford.
It’s that ability that has propelled Saka moving him graduates Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock in the pecking order of Emery, but what’s just as encouraging for Arsenal fans is that he’s demonstrating the character that is perfect too. Saka humble it off and is confident and mature on the pitch.
„Respectful, very hard-working and always prepared to learn,“ is the way club captain Granit Xhaka explained him recently. They are traits recognisable not just to those operating in Arsenal’s academy, which he joined at age eight, but in addition the employees at Greenford High School in Ealing, west London, where he had been a student from the age of 11 to 16.
„He had been a role model of a student,“ assistant head instructor Mark Harvey, who taught Saka PE, tells Sky Sports. „A beautiful and respectful lad having a really wonderful attitude. He just took himself in a way.
„Occasionally you may teach pupils that are extremely good in football, but if you get them on a pitch, they just hog the ball whenever they want to flaunt onto it. Bukayo was not that kind of man. If anything, he played how good he was, which was really pleasant to watch.“
Saka was training frequently with Arsenal at the time he began at Greenford, which makes the long journey from his family home in Ealing into the club’s north-east London academy many times each week, however it is a testament to his mindset – and aptitude – that he never allowed his research to suffer – even if his football commitments required time from college.
„He did his GCSEs together until he left and that he did very, very well,“ says Harvey. „All of his grades were also high, particularly in English and Maths. In addition, he did business studies, he’d RE, he did sciences. He did well across the board, which will be amazing considering the amount of time.
„We attempted to use Arsenal as much as we possibly could. We understood the ranges he got and studious he was, so that we had been about allocating him time out, flexible. His family were really supportive and always ensured he’d do his assignments, which for us was the key thing.“
Saka threw himself with the devotion into his football, climbing through the youth positions of Arsenal and breaking the U23s of Freddie Ljungberg shortly after his 17th birthday. At the exact same timehe fared similarly well in the junior sides of England, impressing training team together with the way he and an unfamiliar position embraced.
„He captured the attention in exactly the same way he does now,“ Neil Dewsnip, England’s former U18s trainer, informs Sky Sports. „He was very quick, strong and may hurt defences, if that was an out-and-out left winger or indeed as a left-back, which is where he played at the start of last year.
„He handled that positional change very well. He is very competent at so he didn’t really get discovered, and he was very good at learning. He was open minded to all myself and my assistant told him. He wasn’t in any manner obstructive to whatever which any member of staff stated.“
Saka has shown the willingness to carry on the instructions of Emery this year, his variation aided by his own mentor Ljungberg’s existence on the coaching team, and there has also been evidence of his defensive awareness. Saka is averaging tackles per 90 minutes.
It appears he has made a comment on Gareth Southgate, that name-dropped Saka when talking England’s attacking options ahead of the European Qualifier against Czech Republic 10 weeks past. A upcoming call-up to the side could come as little surprise.
„He knows what he is about and he is very motivated,“ he states. „I found him to be quiet, but perhaps not in a helpless manner. He had opinions and I discovered he spoke intelligently from a football perspective when he had the ground in the dressing area. He was capable of making observations regarding the competition’s strengths and flaws.“
Saka surely succeeded in running Ashley Young at each chance harnessing the weaknesses of Manchester United at Old Trafford and pouncing from Axel Tuanzebe for the equaliser of Arsenal. The challenge today is to set himself.
„At first, young gamers get that luxury of opponents not really knowing much about them,“ says Dewsnip. „Bukayo is quick, he is strong, he will createhe can score, he can cross. But everyone knows that. He might have to find other ways of influencing the game also.“
It is fortunate, then, that Saka includes an established appetite for self – so there seems little possibility of his profile moving to his mind. In Greenford High School, where the staff refer to him as“our boy“ and where his authorized England U19s shirt hangs framed on the wall at a reception area, he remains a regular guest.
„Our previous head teacher was a big Chelsea fan, but he had a very nice relationship with Bukayo and Bukayo really came back to his leaving do last year with his father,“ says Harvey. „He had some pictures taken and spoke to a couple of our pupils. He still has friends in sixth-form here and he comes into college and says hello to us“
The fact that Saka has friends still studying to get their A-levels is a reminder that this is only the beginning for him. He does not even turn 19 before the start of next season. But the components are there for a brilliant future. Saka is already making a huge impression from Ealing to Old Trafford.
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