Is the steam finally starting to run out of the Arsenal juggernaut? They are strong, but do they need to be stronger? Or are they just experiencing minor hiccups along a long, long road?
Arsenal succumbed to only their 2nd defeat of the season against PSV on Thursday in the Europa League. 2-0 was the final score line as Joey Veerman & Luuk de Jong helped the Dutch team to get a win in the much-delayed fixture.
Their previous match was a 1-1 draw away to Southampton during the weekend, meaning the Gunners dropped points for the first time in the Premier League since their early-September fall to Manchester United.
Arsenal are still sitting pretty on top of the table but their lead over closest rivals Manchester City has been cut down to a mere 2 points now. Mikel Arteta needs to rally his troops on priority and get a grip over the next few weeks before it’s too late to lose the crown.
Amidst all this, Bukayo Saka has been one of the many young, shining lights in their squad since making his debut in 2019 at the tender age of 17 & change. A mainstay in the team now, he has started off his season well with 5 goals & 4 assists in all competitions.
But the 21-year-old Englishman is facing some criticism from the fans due to his frequent diving.
He was shown a yellow card in the clash against Southampton after being deemed to fall to the ground too easily by the referee. He was pressured by Salisu but wasn’t enough to earn him a foul.
In the match against PSV, Saka tumbled while carrying the ball forward and tried to get a favorable call. The referee though was unimpressed and simply asked him to get back on his feet.
It’s not just the recent events, but last year, during the 2021-2022 Europa League’s semi-final 2-1 defeat to Villareal, he was called out by many for a penalty he had won after going down in the box.
It didn’t reflect too brightly on the young winger and accusations of deliberate conjuration of the spot-kick started floating around.
In 2019, referee Mike Dean booked Saka for diving in a match against Sheffield United, and Arsenal legend Ian Wright backed the decision.
“You can see there’s no contact, nothing, he’s truly begun to leap earlier than the defender has planted his foot. He’s younger and he will be taught from that however he’s ready for the contact, that’s what everyone does now, however he didn’t get any.” said Wright “He was rightly booked for that.”
A few fans lashed out, stating the English Player Of The Year has to be put under the spotlight to explain his dives, just as Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane faced a similar issue in 2019.
England captain Kane was once forced to watch a replay of his “dive” during an awkward post-match interview in 2019.
A Sky Sports reporter showed him a replay of the incident which involved Arsenal’s Sokratis on a TV midway through their interview.
Bukayo Saka might find himself in a similar predicament should he continue to ire the fans, especially ones supporting Tottenham.
But the versatile winger has proved time & time again that he is a talented player and has earned admiration from millions across the world.
And for Arsenal’s sake, Arteta will be needing him at his absolute & dazzling best.