The resurgence of a trademark celebration, synonymous with the Arsenal icon, is one indication of a confident player in a good place.
The sight of Bukayo Saka peeling to the nearest corner flag, grabbing it and standing upright – a tribute to club legend Thierry Henry – has been increasingly common in recent weeks.
We saw it from him as he continued to inspire Arsenal to their first Premier League title since 2004. And there he was again at Wembley on Sunday after cutting in from the right and volleying beautifully past Ukraine goalkeeper Anatoly Trubin. The top corner to help England maintain their perfect start to the UEFA Euro 2024 qualifiers.
Saka, 21, is the definition of a superstar footballer at the moment. Improvement, development and a repeat winner. The talent has always been there with Saka. Never in doubt.
Cardiff goalkeeper Rohan Lothra, Saka’s former Arsenal teammate before the academy, told Sportsmail last week: ‘I was seven but still everyone knows that’s great, this guy could be something special. It is now evident that it is something special.
Bukayo Saka is getting tougher for Arsenal and celebrating like Thierry Henry
Saka celebrates with a corner flag in honor of legendary former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry
Footage has recently come back of the younger Saka scoring a hat-trick nine years ago for one of Arsenal’s youth teams, showing his long-running effectiveness in front of goal.
Only now his considerable talents are constantly demonstrated at the highest level. England manager Gareth Southgate has highlighted how Saka has added grit to his game in the past 18 months, helping to boost his confidence in front of goal.
Now in his fourth season as a regular in the first team for Arsenal, his improved goal return backs that up. There were four goals and then seven in Saka’s first two full seasons as a senior player at Arsenal. His tally jumped to 12 goals in 43 games last season. He already has 12 appearances in 28 league appearances for his club this season – plus 10 assists – with 10 games remaining.
The word ‘ruthless’ may be ringing in Saka’s head, as Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has demanded it from his brilliant winger all season.
Mikel Arteta challenged Saka to get tougher in front of goal and he responded
He must be a ruthless winner. That’s it. Arteta said in August. This is his mentality, and this is what he has to do. He has that ability now and he’s going through a place in his career and needs to take it to the next level right now.
Arteta knows what makes Saka tick. So he’s clearly likable and one of the most popular and fun-loving members of the squad he’s a part of – for club and country – there’s also a humility, toughness and professionalism, which Arteta knows there will be the right response from Saka when he is. challenge.
Where it would be easy to complain about the harsh treatment his superstar is receiving, Arteta has instead shifted the responsibility onto what Saka and his teammates can do to help him beat the hatchet men. When to take possession of the ball in certain situations, what to do when receiving the ball, how to use his body, and when to challenge the air. “The first person who has to protect Bucayo is himself,” Arteta added.
When the issue of fatigue was raised, Arteta once again tried to turn the issue around by putting together a challenge, explaining how the best players in the world play 70 games every three days.
Saka takes great care of himself off the field and like his ability, his strength cannot be questioned. He has made 50 appearances for club and country already this season, after five career highs.
There were Europa League matches this season and Saka was expected to be given some time off, but he was there and ready to play.
Saka has featured prominently for Arsenal and England despite talk of fatigue
The 21-year-old showed impressive composure as he found the net for England against Ukraine
It was the same against Ukraine where he was on the pitch until the final whistle even though the match had long been won thanks to his assists and first-half goal. In fairness, reliance on Saka is nothing new – he’s been that way ever since he was progressing through the youth ranks at Arsenal while also being required for England youth duty, prompting concerns about fatigue that ultimately proved unfounded.
Arsenal staff also have fond memories of the one-on-one sessions the younger Saka had with analysts after training when he broke into the first team, detailing where he could develop and improve.
When it comes to scoring goals, he now has a wide range of finishes in his arsenal which he can use with finesse and composure, as shown against Ukraine.
Combined with his ruthlessness and confidence, Saka may have a greater need for this Henry-inspired celebration, too.