FOLLOWING LAST weekend’s injury to Sead Kolasinac, a blot on an otherwise encouraging 3-2 home victory over Everton, Mikel Arteta’s reliance on the precocious talent of Bukayo Saka is set to be tested further still.
Despite scoring the only goal in the away leg, Arsenal still have work to do in tonight’s Europa League tie against Olympiakos (Feb 27), and with Kieran Tierney still working towards full fitness after dislocating his shoulder in December, Saka is likely to make his sixth start in the competition.
Speaking after Sunday’s win however, Arteta was quick to point out the 19 year-old has plenty still to learn. After replacing Kolasinac on 18 minutes, himself only just returning from injury after a six-week layoff, Saka’s attacking verve was equally evident as his defensive naivety.
“Kola has been very unlucky with injuries, Bukayo had some issues as well before the game, then he started to play after a few minutes.”
“It was a great contribution offensively, but there were other moments where he showed today there’s still a big margin for him to improve and he needs to keep his feet on the ground. We have to help him to do that.”
With Sunday’s immaculate cross for Eddie Nketiah’s equaliser bringing his assist tally for the season into double figures, becoming the first teenager to reach the milestone with Arsenal since Cesc Fabregas in 2006-7, Saka’s rise is among the few positives of this season for the club.
Having only made his Premier League debut a little over twelve months ago however, after being picked by Freddie Ljungberg as a utility wing back against Standard Liège (a game in which Saka scored), Arteta’s eagerness to remain level-headed over the youngster’s development is understandable.
Following his excellent early cross, Saka gifted possession to Everton in dangerous areas of the pitch on multiple occasions in what was a sloppy second half for the teenager.
It was Saka who lost the ball from his own throw to give Richarlison a chance he should have done better from and later, after conceding possession in his own half, it was only Bernd Leno’s excellent point blanc save that spared Saka’s blushes after Dominic Calvert-Lewin was presented with a seemingly unmissable chance.
Though Arteta’s post-match comments suggest Saka was not 100 per cent going into the fixture, his tired second half display against Everton is evidence this hugely exciting young talent needs his game time careful managed until the end of the season.