Bukayo Saka he’s been getting his kicks this season while getting kicked around. He continues a meteoric rise for Arsenal and England by becoming a key player in an improbable run for the Premier League title that shows no sign of abating come mid-March.
Saka, 21, has 19 league goals to date, a total of 10 goals and nine assists second only to center forwards Erling Haaland (33) and harry kane (22), as the Ealing-born star has helped keep the Gunners five points clear of Manchester City with a relentless mix of creativity and a hunger for a fight.
He was recognized at the London Football Awards on Monday at the Camden Roundhouse with the Young Player of the Year award, but it is not the first time he has been singled out for his individual approach.
Opponents have tried various aggressive tactics with Saka, including Manchester City’s artisans Pep Guardiola, who attempted to shut down the winger in last month’s encounter with a series of late-winning tackles on the makeshift full-back. Bernardo Silva a yellow card
In a rare fit of pique, Saka reacted angrily to similar treatment in his next match at Aston Villa, after which manager Mikel Arteta revealed that Arsenal would investigate whether there was any evidence in recent weeks to suggest he was being targeted.
Saka is the eighth most fouled player in the Premier League with 45 free kicks awarded to him, well below Crystal Palace. wifrido zaha 64. It is those who have gone unpunished who cause some consternation at the Emirates Stadium.
Sources told ESPN that, as is the case with many clubs, the Gunners have been in regular dialogue with the refereeing body, Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), after most matches this season and the topic was mentioned in those conversations.
But typical of a young man who’s taken everything that comes with a stratospheric rise in his stride, Saka isn’t about to make a fuss.
“I can’t come here and start complaining about being fouled,” Saka told ESPN. “It doesn’t make sense, I’m not going to get anywhere with it.
“Arsenal have had the meetings they need to have with the referees and things like that. I feel like we just have to take it from there and see where it takes us. The way I play, I’m always going to attract contact. It’s a problem of how many (faults)”.
Some might take this as a sign that it’s becoming a regular game changer. “I would prefer other compliments,” he said with a smile.
Saka’s poise stems in part from his upbringing, born to Nigerian parents Adenike and Yomi, as well as his faith. He reads the Bible every night and during Monday’s awards ceremony, which raises funds for Willow, a charity that helps provide special experiences for the terminally ill 16-40 year-olds in the UK, Saka is generous with his time. , posing for selfies and signing autographs for both sides of their game discussion.
“I just try to be as professional as possible, take care of myself,” he said. “I eat the best, I sleep as much as I can. When I’m in training I learn as much as I can and in matches I only play 100%. The rest I leave in the hands of God.
“God has been watching over me. A few tackles, I might have been lucky but I wouldn’t call it luck. I believe in God and he’s watching over me.”
“I’ve just kept fit and I hope I can continue to do my best for Arsenal on the pitch so we can have some happiness at the end of the season now.”
As is typical of Arteta, he instructed Saka to focus on what he can control. The Spaniard believes that Arsenal should be able to modify their use of the ball to reduce the risk of Saka being unfairly challenged.
“I think he’s talking about the type of balls I get,” Saka explained. “For example, as a winger if you receive the ball on the touchline with your back to the defender, even though I am the defender, I would do the same: go in directly and quickly, close you down.
“So of course there will be a lot of pressure and a lot of contact. I think he’s talking about those kinds of balls, the kind of balls where I don’t have a lot of room to maneuver and the defender can shut me down quickly.” and be very aggressive.
“People will know me more now, I’ve played more and more football, more and more at the highest levels too, so they’ll know more what my game is about. Then of course they’ll set up plans to stop and dirty me and things like that.
“It’s normal for most wingers. The same goes for most of the other wingers on our team when they play. I just have to keep adapting, keep adapting, learn to play one-on-one, two-on-one, three-on-one. , whatever it is. Keep developing. That’s the beauty of the game. There’s always going to be something different every week. It’s all about me trying to break it down and finally win the game.”
Saka’s challenge is typical of the determination that helped him rise from Arsenal’s Hale End academy to helping spearhead a title run in just four years.
And a lot is asked of him. Saka has played 2,320 minutes in the 27 league games this season, a figure only surpassed by 11 outfield players in the league as a whole.
Despite an impressive individual tally, Saka insists he is yet to reach the set number of goals and assists he set out for in August – numbers he continues to keep private – but a continuation of his current form would surely make that achievement a milestone. question of success. time. Eleven Premier League games await him, plus the Europa League round of 16, the second leg against Sporting CP on Thursday, the same day Saka will surely be named in Gareth Southgate’s last England squad for matches against Italy and Ukraine. at the end of this month.
Soccer never stops. When asked if he felt fresh, Saka settles into her seat and gauges her response.
“I would say mentally, I’m happy to be on the field,” he said. “If I put it this way: do I prefer to be injured or on the field? I want to be on the field. If I ask myself when I was younger where I would like to be and it was on the field playing for Arsenal every week competing at the highest level, I would take it.
“So, I’m happy. I just want to keep pushing until the end of the season and then in the summer I can lock myself in my room and sleep for the rest of the summer.”