Bukayo Saka has burst on to the scene at Arsenal and gone from a hot prospect from the academy set-up to a first-choice defender with a flair for attacking at pace and delivering incredible assists. His displays have dazzled to such an extent that instead of looking over his shoulder in anticipation of whether or not he is retained when his contract expires, he now contends with fans urging the Gunners to secure the livewire starlet to a long-term deal as soon as possible.
Saka, who is still only 18, has a deal at the Emirates Stadium that expires in the summer of next year and head coach Mikel Arteta has already declared the he hopes the powers the be are currently working on nailing the jet-heeled flyer to an improved and extended contract. All this, bear in mind, with the youngster effectively playing out of position. He is not a natural defender yet injuries prompted Arteta, the Gunners coach who replaced Unai Emery, to try him in the role — and he responded with a great degree of effectiveness and you could say he passed his test with flying colours.
Saka is naturally a touchline-hugging wideman who can cut in and devastate opponents with his pace and innate ability to choose the right option, be it delivering an inch-perfect pass or slamming the ball into the net. There can be little doubt that Saka will, one day, be pushed further up the pitch to fulfil his destiny as a winger. Because although he has great talent going forward, he showed on Sunday — when Arsenal beat Everton 3-2 in a nail-biting victory in the Premier League – that his defending can be a little suspect. Not that he can’t be forgiven for a few slip-ups.
Both of these aspects to his game were in evidence in the triumph over the Toffees. The attacking ability shone when he bombed down the left to deliver a quality ball into the path of striker Eddie Nketiah in the 27th minute to bring the Gunners level at 1-1. in the second-half, he lost possession a number of times while trying to fulfil his rear-guard duties. Defending is an art, and it goes without saying he can develop this side of his game if need be.
But you can’t help but think it is his blistering pace and offence nous that will lead him to be asked to play in an attacking role in the future. That time may come sooner rather than later with the news that Kieran Tierney, the injured £25million left-back bought from Celtic in the summer, is on the path to full fitness and will probably take up the berth before the season closes.
Of Saka and his ability to cause danger when he attacks from his full-back slot, Arteta says the youngster
“is a very brave guy. Every time he gets into the final third, he is trying to cause problems for the opponent. He deserves these chances, he is doing very well and that’s why he is in the team. He’s great for the club. If we can get players from the academy and give them real chances even when we have other people fit, it shows we believe in them. He’s responded well.”