Bukayo Saka played in central midfield on Saturday. The Arsenal youngster’s future might not be out wide, as many people expected it to be.
Bukayo Saka is one of the most talented players to come through the Arsenal system in some time. Bursting onto the senior scene this season, he has emerged as a first-team regular at only 18 years of age. His performances have been sensational. He leads the team in assists, has filled in at a variety of positions, and, most importantly, has rarely looked out of his depth.
However, spinning forwards, there is a crucial question hanging over his future: Where does he play?
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Saka developed as a winger. His skill set seems to be geared towards playing out wide and he himself has said that he is a winger. His first senior start for Arsenal was as a winger and he only played left-back under Mikel Arteta because of injuries to Sead Kolasinac and Kieran Tierney, leaving Saka as the only fit option at the position.
Ian Wright, too, believes that Saka’s best position is a winger. He told DAZN via the Metro this week:
“For me he’s a better winger. It’s just because of his ability and how good he is that he can play that position. Ashley turned out to be one of the best full-backs in the world but this guy is better further forward.”
However, as his performance against Brighton on Saturday proved, Saka might be most effective in a position other than an advanced wide attacker. And there is reason to believe this.
Saka is an excellent dribbler. He is agile, well-balanced, and sharp, but he is not a true burner. Rarely does he receive the ball and beat a defender in front of him in a one-on-one. Even in comparison to Gabriel Martinelli or Reiss Nelson, his dribbling style is much more subtle and nuanced. He drifts between pockets and beats players with body feints and cushioned first touches.
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When young wingers break through, oftentimes, the one elite quality they boast is the ability to beat defenders in one-on-ones. Think Raheem Sterling at Liverpool or Nelson in the pre-season tour in Australia. Their games are far from complete. They often do not score many goals or provide many assists — that comes with experience and understanding — but they are lethal with the ball at their feet.
Saka is different. He is more creative. He is a better crosser and passer. He can also finish and is very good at dealing with the ball under pressure. His most impactful quality this season has been his consistency. He executes the simple things very well. This is unique for a young player, and especially a wide attacker, both of which tend to be more inconsistent, offering incredible moments alongside key mistakes.
Saka excelled in a wide central-midfield role on Saturday. He picked up pockets of space between the lines, helped shuttle Arsenal forward as he carried the ball. He tapped into his more creative side in a superb performance. Perhaps, then, out wide is not his best position.