Bukayo Saka is acting as the nitro boost in Arsenal’s Premier League title charge this season. Whenever Manchester City (or Manchester United) threaten to close in on his side, he gives them a nice little boost to shoot them ahead in the title race.
The 21-year-old has come a LONG way since being racially abused by some of his own countrymen following England’s loss to Italy in the Euro 2020.
That appears to have been a spark that inspired him to tap into his utmost potential and prove his doubters wrong.
Saka was one of the best wingers in the Premier League and arguably Arsenal’s best performer last season. He had 18 goal contributions (11 goals, 7 assists) in 38 appearances – which included goals against City, United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur.
However, he appears to have taken things up a notch this season and is being helped by the overall level of the Arsenal squad being uplifted as well. Saka has been in red-hot form so far, being almost unplayable on occasions because of his sizzling style.
Indeed, the 21-year-old is one of the most unique and unpredictable attacking players in the Premier League.
He possesses the valuable flexibility of being able to move either inwards or outwards in the final third through the right wing, while his decision-making in the box has been immaculate.
Saka proved just how good he can be against world-class opposition with his heroics for England at the World Cup, as he scored three goals and was also their best player in the loss to France in the quarter-finals.
The Englishman has maintained his good run of form after the domestic season restarted and produced another memorable performance for Arsenal in their thrilling 3-2 win over United on Sunday.
The game is widely regarded as one of the most entertaining Premier League games of this season so far. It had everything in, be it goals, a very high standard of general gameplay and comebacks from both sides.
In the end, Eddie Nketiah’s late winner helped Arsenal get the three points and move to 50 points after 19 Premier League games.
Considering that they have more points at this stage of the season than the Invincibles did in their record-setting season, one can now strongly fancy Mikel Arteta’s side to win the league this season.
And one of the major reasons behind that will be the inspiring form of Saka.
Saka matches legends
The young winger didn’t really have it easy against United, facing his national teammate and close friend Luke Shaw.
As has been the case for him all season, Saka was frustrated by a lot of fouls being made on him in the first half.
But he lit things up when the United defender started growing tired in the second half. Saka helped his side take the lead soon after the break, scoring one of the best goals of 2023 so far.
He managed to get some space outside the box, just about dribble past Christian Eriksen and hit an amazing shot that left David de Gea stranded.
The goal was Saka’s seventh in the Premier League this season, but it also marked a special achievement in his young career.
The 21-year-old’s strike was his third in as many consecutive Premier League games against the Red Devils, helping him manage a feat that has only been replicated by two Arsenal players in the past.
Indeed, the only former Gunners to have scored in three successive games against United are Freddie Ljungberg and Thierry Henry.
The ex-Holland international did so in the 1998/99 and 1999/00 seasons, with Arsenal’s all-time leading goalscorer managing to do so in the 1999/00 and 2000/01 campaigns.
What helps Saka stand out is that he is the first Hale End (Arsenal’s academy) graduate to have achieved such an achievement in the Premier League.
Moreover, another rather interesting aspect to be considered is that despite their impressive heroics, neither Ljungberg nor Henry were able to help Arsenal win the league titles in either of those seasons.
While the Gunners now look to be in a comfortable enough position to ensure that the same misfortune doesn’t befall them, Saka has to keep performing at a very high level to keep them going strong in the title race.
Beating Ljungberg’s assist tally
The 21-year-old is, of course, still behind in terms of matching the goal numbers which the two Invinbles-members did in their Arsenal careers.
Ljungberg made 327 appearances for the Gunners, scoring 72 goals and providing 37 assists. Henry made 376 appearances, in which he scored 228 goals and provided 103 assists.
In comparison, Saka has scored 31 goals and provided 36 assists in 157 appearances for Arsenal in his short career so far.
He is on the verge of beating Ljungberg’s assist tally, needing just two more assists to do so, but is of course still well behind in goal numbers when weighed up against both the Arsenal legends.
Lessons from last season
Knowing how he is, the Englishman is probably not that interested in setting records and more focused on helping Arsenal do what not many expected them to achieve before the season.
They are in a very good position in the title race but know that losing both games against City in the league and a few more dropped points can see all their hard work diminished.
The Gunners had a bit of a late meltdown towards the end of last season. Two crushing losses to Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United saw them barely miss out on a top-4 finish.
While a top-4 place looks to be in the bag for this campaign, but the stakes are arguably even bigger this time around. They need to maintain this amazing form and keep up this elite winner’s mentality to pip Pep Guardiola’s side in the race.
Fortunately, they have a generational talent in Saka – who appears to have developed a never-give-up mindset and is determined to help the Gunners end their two-decade-long Premier League drought by guiding them to lift the Premier League trophy at the end of May.