Jamie Carragher marvelled in his”composure and caliber” on the ball. The notoriously hard-to-please Roy Keane talked up his”lovely” performance. Even his acceptance was lent by Cesc Fabregas. “Saka is a participant,” he wrote on Twitter. “Eighteen years old and showing good maturity”
Arsenal and Manchester United’s 1-1 draw at Old Trafford last month was another reminder of how far the two clubs have fallen since the days of their epic competition, a drab affair. To get Bukayo Saka it provided a platform to enhance a fast growing reputation.
At 25 days , and producing his senior appearance for Arsenal and 18 years, Saka became the youngest player to start a Premier League match between the 2 sides. And at a ground where players far older than him’ve awakened, there was evidence of his inexperience.
In fact, Saka’s starting place now appears more secure than that of the #72m Nicolas Pepe. Unai Emery explained Saka as an”important player” following the Manchester United game and began him again in the 1-0 win over Bournemouth. The academy graduate will likely be confident of keeping his place.
And why shouldn’t he be?
Saka provided the first glimpses of his raw skills last year – most especially with his man-of-the-match showing against Qarabag from the Europa League – but, much like one of his driving runs down Arsenal’s left flankhis progress has gained momentum from the new effort.
The winger scored his first senior goal in the 3-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt a month, finding the bottom corner using a curling finish from 25 metres out, and that there also have been three assists, including the wise through-ball to get Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s equaliser at Old Trafford.
It’s that ability which has propelled Saka moving him graduates Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock in Emery order, for Arsenal fans is that he is demonstrating the personality 47, but what’s just as reassuring. Saka humble it off and is mature and confident about the pitch.
“Respectful, really hard-working and always prepared to learn,” is how club captain Granit Xhaka explained him recently. They are traits recognisable not just to those working in Arsenal’s academy, which he joined at age eight, but also the staff at Greenford High School in Ealing, west London, in which he had been a student from the age of 11 to 16.
“He had been a role model of a student,” assistant head teacher Mark Harvey, who taught Saka PE, informs Sky Sports. “A beautiful and respectful lad with a really great attitude. He carried himself in a nice way.
“Sometimes you can instruct students that are extremely good in football, but when you get them onto a pitch, they just hog the ball or they wish to show off with it. Bukayo was not that type of guy at all. If anything, he played down how good he was, which was really pleasant to see.”
Saka was coaching regularly with Arsenal from the time he started at Greenford, which makes the long trip from his family house in Ealing into the club’s north-east London academy several times per week, however it’s a nod to his attitude – and ability – that he never permitted his research to endure even when his football commitments demanded time from school.
“He did his GCSEs with us until he left and he did very, very nicely,” says Harvey. “Each of his grades were so too large, particularly in English and Maths. He did business research, he did RE, he’d combined sciences. He simply did well across the board, which will be amazing considering the amount of time he had from college.
“We tried to work with Arsenal as much as possible. We knew exactly how studious he had been and the ranges he had been becoming, so that we were about allocating him out time flexible. His family were very supportive and always ensured he would do his homework, which for us was the key thing.”
Saka threw himself with the devotion to his football, breaking the U23s of Freddie Ljungberg after his 17th birthday and climbing through the youth ranks of Arsenal. At the same time, he fared nicely in England’s junior sides, impressing training staff with the way an unfamiliar position was embraced by him.
“He captured the eye in the same manner he does now,” Neil Dewsnip, England’s former U18s coach, tells Sky Sports. “He was really quick, powerful and may hurt defences, if that was as an out-and-out left winger or indeed as a left-back, that is where he played for us at the start of this past year.
“He handled that positional change very well. He’s very competent at one-v-one defending, therefore he did not get discovered, and that he had been very good at learning. He had been open-minded to whatever myself and my assistant told him. He wasn’t in any manner obstructive to anything any member of staff stated.”
Saka has shown the exact same willingness to carry on Emery’s instructions this year, his variation helped by the existence of his mentor Ljungberg about the training staff that was first-team, and there has also been signs of his defensive knowledge. Saka is currently averaging more tackles per 90 minutes.
It seems he has even made a comment on Gareth Southgate, that name-dropped Saka when talking England’s attacking alternatives prior to the Qualifier against Czech Republic. A upcoming call-up into the side could come as little surprise for Dewsnip.
“He knows what he’s about and he is really motivated,” he states. “I found him to be silent, but perhaps not in a feeble way. He had opinions and I discovered that he spoke really intelligently from a football point of view when he had the floor in the room. He was more than capable of making observations regarding the competition’s strengths and flaws.”
Saka succeeded in running Ashley Young at each opportunity harnessing the flaws of Manchester United at Old Trafford and pouncing on a loose pass from Axel Tuanzebe for the equaliser of Arsenal. The challenge is to establish himself to the long term.
“At first, young gamers get that luxury of competitions not really understanding much about them,” states Dewsnip. “Bukayo is fast, he is strong, he will make he can score, he can cross. But everyone knows that now. He might have to find different methods of influencing the game also.”
It is fortunate, then, that Saka comes with an established appetite for self – and that there seems little possibility of his increased profile moving to his mind. At Greenford High School, where the team proudly refer to him as”our boy” and wherever his signed England U19s shirt hangs framed on the wall in a reception area, ” he remains a regular guest.
“Our previous head instructor was a big Chelsea fan, but he had a very wonderful relationship with Bukayo and Bukayo really came back to his leaving do last year with his dad,” says Harvey. “He had some pictures taken and talked to some of our students. He still has friends in sixth-form here and that he comes into college and says hello to us.”
The fact that Saka has friends still studying for their A-levels is a reminder that this is only the start for him. He does not even turn 19 until the start of next season. But all the ingredients are there for a bright future. From Ealing to Old Trafford, Saka is currently making a significant impression.
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