Bukayo Saka: Arsenal’s Attacking Talisman

Over the past two years, Arsenal have splurged £105 million on Declan Rice, £65 million on Kai Havertz, and £45 million on Gabriel Jesus. And yet, their attacking protagonist is a player who hasn’t cost a dime in transfer fees and who has been with the club since the age of seven: Bukayo Saka.


Born in Ealing, England to Nigerian parents, Saka joined the Hale End academy in 2008 and quickly made his way up the youth ranks, with Arsenal U16 coach Trevor Bumstead remarking in 2020: “Bukayo always stood out in the younger teams. He was a fantastic decision maker. He knew when to beat people and when to pass, as well as having brilliant physical attributes and really good character and personality.”



Saka w0uld make his debut on November 29, 2018, coming on as a substitute for Aaron Ramsey in a Europa League match vs. Vorskla Poltava. He would continue to progress under Unai Emery, scoring a goal and two assists in a 3-0 win vs. Eintracht Frankfurt in the UEFA Europa League, but it wasn’t until the injuries of Sead Kolašinac and Kieran Tierney that he managed to establish himself as a regular at left back midway through the campaign.


Arsenal were forced to settle for an eighth-place finish but nevertheless closed out the season on a positive note by beating Chelsea 2-1 in the FA Cup Final courtesy of a brace from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. In one of Arsenal’s most turbulent campaigns of the 21st century, Saka emerged as a bright spot for the Gunners and finished as their top assist provider with 12 assists across all competitions.


He would continue his progression in 2020/21 under Mikel Arteta, becoming a regular contributor and providing blistering speed, impressive dribbling prowess and a dynamic ability in the final third. He enchanted the Arsenal faithful with his never-say-die mindset and proved more and more dangerous, developing a knack for dribbling the ball towards the edge of the opponent’s box, progressing the ball into inverted channels and kickstarting counter-attacks at a moment’s notice.


It was another mediocre campaign for the Gunners, who finished eighth once again, but Saka continued to make his mark and finished atop the squad for assists with eight across all competitions. However, things would start to turn around in 2021/22 for Arteta’s side, who parted ways with veterans like David Luiz and Aubameyang and ended up registering an average starting XI of 24 years and 308 days, more than a whole year younger than the second-youngest side in the Premier League.



Bit by bit, Arsenal managed to wash off the ignominy of failing to qualify for Europe for the first time in 26 years, finishing fifth in the table and booking their ticket in the UEFA Europa League. Saka was front and center in the team’s rapid progression, finishing as their top scorer with 12 goals and their second-top assister with 7 assists, only behind Alexandre Lacazette (8).


Having suffered vile racist abuse after his penalty miss in the Euros Final vs. Italy, Saka quickly silenced the critics and emerged as Arsenal’s poster boy in attack, taking his finishing to another level and improving drastically in terms of the quality of his crosses. Whereas in previous seasons, Saka preferred to cut inside and work his way through the middle, Saka was now capable of not just maneuvering the ball into tight spaces, but going down the line, taking on his fullback, and constantly keeping his defender on his toes.


The 2022/23 campaign would see him reach a world-class level and stake his claim as one of the best wingers in European football, forming a stellar combination with Martin Ødegaard in the right side of attack and winning the PFA Young Player of the Year award. The only player to finish with double digits in goals and assists alongside Mohamed Salah, Saka registered 14 goals and 11 assists in the league as Arsenal made a strong push for the title, only to relinquish the championship to Manchester City in the final months.


It’s been more of the same for Saka this season, winning the England Men’s Player of the Year award for a second straight year and becoming the youngest Arsenal player to hit 50 goals in the Premier League. His ascent over the years perfectly coincides with Arsenal’s drastic improvement under Arteta — he continues to improve not just offensively, but defensively as well, ranking in the 90th percentile for tackles per 90 (2.03), the 81st for blocks (1.31) and the 71st for clearances (0.67) amongst attacking midfielders / wingers in Europe’s top 5 leagues, per FBRef.



With a well-rounded skillset and a remarkable durability, Saka has even been entrusted with the captain’s armband and has continued to solidify his status as one of the first names on Arsenal’s team sheet. His teammates constantly look to him to create and score, as evidenced by his 14.77 progressive passes received (98th), his 7.86 touches in the attacking penalty area (97th), and his 5.52 shot-creating actions (91st).


Whereas his attacking counterpart Gabriel Martinelli has taken a step back in his development and has found himself supplanted by Leandro Trossard in Arteta’s rotation, Saka is only getting better. This season, he led Arsenal’s squad for goals in the Premier League (16), goal contributions (25), shots per game (3.1) and successful dribbles per game (1.4), and he’s also made his mark in the UEFA Champions League with four goals and four assists — only Jude Bellingham, Vinicius Junior and Harry Kane registered more goal contributions.


He was unable to put an end to Arsenal’s 20-year title drought, with Manchester City edging them to the championship on the final day of the campaign, but at this rate, it seems to be only a matter of time before he does manage to guide his boyhood club to the promised land, having racked up an impressive 58 goals and 53 assists in 226 appearances for the Gunners. At 22 years of age, Saka has firmly asserted himself as one of the finest wingers in European football, and if England do manage to win their first major trophy since 1966 this summer, he’ll surely have a key role to play for the Three Lions.


By: @TSpec1al

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / David Price