Bukayo Saka needs protecting - before it's too late

Comments (0)
Bukayo Saka Arsenal 2022-23
Getty Images
The Arsenal winger was on the end of some tough tackles against Aston Villa on Saturday - and that is nothing new this season

Quite how Bukayo Saka managed to get through the 90 minutes at Aston Villa on Saturday afternoon is anyone’s guess. There were several occasions when it looked like he would have to go off due to an ankle injury, especially during the early stages of the second half when he was clearly struggling to put any weight on his foot.

But he managed to keep going, which says more about Saka’s durability and bravery than anything else.

It’s also a clear sign that the 21-year-old is now getting used to having to strap himself up and play through the pain barrier every week in a bid to help Mikel Arteta’s side continue their title charge.

And that is no surprise given the weekly battering that Saka has to endure every time he takes to the pitch in an Arsenal shirt. The fact that he has managed to escape a serious injury up to this point is more down to luck than anything else. 

But it feels like only a matter of time before that injury arrives...

  1. A target on his back

    A target on his back

    “Bukayo is an unbelievable player,” Oleksandr Zinchenko said after Saturday’s thrilling 4-2 success at Villa Park. “All the full-backs from the other teams know he’s so dangerous, so they try to provoke him, tackle him and the referees should know this.

    “We can speak about [Lionel] Messi, Cristiano [Ronaldo], Neymar and players like this. The referees need to protect this kind of player, they need to look after them.”

    The treatment Saka is being subjected to is now a regular occurrence and that is perhaps no surprise given his ever growing stature within the game.

    Clearly, he is Arsenal’s best player, so rival teams are going to do everything that they can to limit his impact. And there is nothing wrong with that, as long the treatment stops short of being dangerous and calculated.

    And that’s where the issue is here and why Arsenal are so worried about their young winger. Saka is being targeted every single week. It’s persistent fouling. It’s defenders not even attempting to play the ball, and it’s threatening one of the brightest young talents in football.

    “He’s going to have to deal with that, not every week, but every three days,” Arteta said after the victory against Villa. “It’s his game - teams are not stupid and they want to stop him. We need to protect him.”

  2. Referees need to do more

    Referees need to do more

    When Arteta talks about Saka needing protection, he is not suggesting that teams shouldn’t be allowed to be physical with the England international. What he wants to see - and what Arsenal fans have been demanding for months - is for referees to show that persistent fouling will not be tolerated.

    That’s the big issue here. It seems to regularly take four of five challenges before someone is booked for taking out Saka and that can’t be right.

    Look at Manchester City’s recent win at Emirates Stadium. Bernardo Silva was given a torrid time by Saka in the first half and he knew the only way he could stop him was by fouling him.

    The Portugal international was penalised four times for bringing down Arsenal’s No.7, yet it was only after the fourth foul in first-half stoppage time that he was finally shown a yellow card.

    Had that card been brandished far earlier by Anthony Taylor, as it should have been, then Saka would not have had to suffer so many heavy impacts, as Silva wouldn’t have been able to dive in due to the threat of being sent off.

    And that’s where officials need to improve.

  3. Are Arsenal trying to make their case?

    Are Arsenal trying to make their case?

    The concern at Arsenal is understandable and, during regular conversations with PGMOL, they have made their feelings known about the treatment Saka is consistently receiving.

    It’s not about asking for preferential treatment; it’s about trying to protect one of the best attacking talents in the country.

    Why should a defender get two or three warnings before a yellow card is shown? It makes no sense. If he deserves to be booked, then book him. Otherwise he’s just being given free licence to keep doing it and that’s when someone is going to end up getting hurt.

    It’s a similar situation with time wasting. Anthony Taylor warned City keeper Ederson three times over how long he was taking over goal kicks during last week’s meeting between the sides

    Why did he get three warnings? Just book him the first time or he is just going to keep doing it, which is exactly what happened.

    Ederson had probably wasted a couple of minutes by the time he was finally shown a yellow card. He’d done his job by then.

    A ticking off by the referee is not a deterrent. A yellow card is, and that’s why the officials need to be more proactive about these sorts of things.

  4. Time off to recover
    Getty Images

    Time off to recover

    Saka was given the day off from training on Monday at London Colney to recover from the treatment that came his way at Villa Park. Arsenal are hopeful he will be fine to feature against Leicester City this weekend as they look to build on their dramatic success in the Midlands.

    But he and his club know exactly what he is going to have to deal with if he is fit to feature at the King Power Stadium on Saturday. 

    So far this season Saka has started all-but one of Arsenal’s 23 Premier League games, but that run of continued availability is down to good fortune more than anything else.

    And if he doesn’t start getting the protection he deserves soon, then it feels inevitable that his luck is going to run out.