Bukayo Saka produced a beautiful goal in Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Wolves. However, the 18-year-old performed poorly overall. He is a special player, even when he’s not.
Bukayo Saka scored his first Premier League goal of his career in Arsenal’s 2-0 victory over Wolves on Saturday evening. The 18-year-old has enjoyed a remarkable first season with the senior squad, breaking into the first-team set-up under Unai Emery after a superb goal against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League and continuing his excellent form under Mikel Arteta.
At the weekend, Saka again showed off his versatility, switching to the right side of a front three, flanking Eddie Nketiah and playing in front of new signing Cedric Soares, who was making his full league debut. It is the fifth position he has played since Arteta took over, including left-wing, left-back, left wing-back and central midfield.
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However, for much of the match, Saka looked extremely uncomfortable. His positioning was confused, his touch was loose and he struggled to protect the ball, while his link-up play with Cedric was very poor, the pair failing to ever get on the same page.
In the first half, Saka rarely impacted the game in a positive manner, was dispossessed on several occasions, and every more offensive decision he did take often backfired or didn’t quite come off.
Yet, despite these difficulties, he continued to work hard, pressed without the ball, and got into positive positions that may just lead to something. And, of course, despite his inconsistent performance up until that point, this eagerness to get into the box in support of Nketiah made all the difference.
Saka’s goal came from his willingness to make runs off the ball, to continue to working hard despite his prior errors, and then to have the confidence to take on a difficult technical skill, a first-time, swivelled volley from a spinning, deflected cross into the corner of the goal.
Arteta touched on Saka’s special goal and his goalscoring ability in his post-match press conference:
“It is true that in the first half he had some moments where he struggled but then he started understanding things better after 20 minutes. He scored a really good goal but I really liked the way he kept trying and trying and trying rather than putting his head down and being disappointed <…> He has the ability to do that [to score goals]. He’s very neat when he gets in the opponent’s box, whether that’s to produce an assist or finish an action. I think the move was really good too. He was in the right spot at the right moment and it was a very important goal.”
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Saka produced a special moment that handed Arsenal a lead to defend in the second half, even when he was producing one of his worst performances of his career — that speaks as much to the quality of his performance as it does to his poor display on Saturday. And that is what a true match-winner does.
Arsenal have high expectations for Saka. He is meant to be the next great attacking player at the club. And in the modern game, elite attackers must win matches singlehandedly, producing individual moments of magic that no one else in the squad can, even when they are playing poorly.
Saka has proved that he can play consistently, that he can execute the nuanced moments of different positions. And now he is showing that he produce special moments even when he is playing poorly. That is a match-winner.