A silver lining – Bukayo Saka has been influential for Arsenal this season

The 19-year-old Bukayo Saka has been a revelation at Arsenal ever since he took the step up to the senior team from their academy. The English youngster had a breakthrough season last year, where he made 26 Premier League appearances.

But that season, he was often played in a conservative role on the left flank, with the occasional starts on the left wing. And his influence on the Arsenal team is truly showing now that he has found a more attacking role under Mikel Arteta this season.

Saka is a creative spark on either wing

The youngster has been deployed in a vast number of positions this season. He has played down the left flank at times but it is his role as a right-winger that has benefited Arsenal the most.

It is largely down to Arteta adopting a new approach. The Spaniard has visibly gone with a 4-2-3-1 set-up

, which often sees Saka as the team’s creative outlet on the right.
Bukayo Saka (red kit, the player in possession) has been playing in an advanced attacking role this season for Arsenal, largely down the right. And it’s working. (Image Credits: Official Arsenal YouTube account)

That is also where he has made the majority of starts for the team this campaign. And the results are amazing to see. Saka has 5 goals and 6 assists this season in the 12 games he has played down the right-hand side so far. His heatmaps in a selection of recent Premier League matches shows how he operates on the right-hand side.

Another impressive thing about Saka is his ability to be a problem for the opposition even when deployed on the left-hand side, a position where he regularly played last season.

The amount of action in and around the box is amazing to see from a 19-year-old who often played at full-back last campaign.

However, how much is he creating for Arsenal? Is he a goal threat? He certainly is. Saka is the 3rd best performer at the club this season when it comes to xG (expected goals), and by far the best performer with regards to xA (expected assists). He is also 3rd in the list of Arsenal players when it comes to Sh90 (shots per 90 minutes).

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Bukayo Saka is exceeding expectations as he is in the thick of goal-scoring action for Arsenal this season. (Understat.com)

His creative impact on the team is now clear. He works his magic on the right-hand side and looks to create for the attackers. But is he directly impacting them with goals and assists? The answer is, yes.

All 13 of the teenager’s goals and assists this season have come in matches where Arsenal have not lost. 7 of those have either pulled Arsenal level, or put them in front. And his impact was on display in the club’s most recent win against SL Benfica in the UEFA Europa League round-of-32 clash in the second leg.

Arsenal needed 2 goals to progress with less than half an hour remaining. And you just know who rose to the occasion. Saka assisted the last Arsenal goal that led them to a 3-2 win, ensuring their progress to the next round. He had already assisted Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with his opener that put Arsenal 1-0 up on the night.

Saka was a beast against SL Benfica in the second leg. (SofaScore)

In the first tweet, you can see how Saka picks out a superb ball for the striker by cutting into the middle. That was a beautifully timed pass, one which you would expect from refined central midfielders at the peak of their game, and not a 19-year-old budding winger.

His assist for the third goal saw his quick feet make space for a cross, and he found the head of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Both brilliant assists, and vital for Arsenal’s dream of a European trophy.

Verdict

It has been visibly clear this season that Arsenal are good with Saka in their team. He has been influential and looks like one player with a really bright future in the game.

He is a player worthy of the No.7 shirt, and you don’t say that a lot when talking about teenagers at a top-6 Premier League club.

Aniket Rai

An ordinary football fan, doing what he loves.

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