Mikel Arteta offers hint over Bukayo Saka’s future role as Arsenal squad return to training
Bukayo Saka’s best position has been a subject of continual debate since he was given an extended run in the side.
That came at left-back, a decision forced on Mikel Arteta out of necessity following injuries to Sead Kolasinac and Kieran Tierney. Saka had played in the position before, particularly in the England youth teams, but had made a name for himself at Arsenal as a marauding left winger.
Equally he has made no secret of his desire to make his name further forward and said after his man of the match display in a 4-0 win over Newcastle in February: “I feel like my dream was always to be a winger, to affect games, score goals and get assists.
“For now I’ll do the job the manager asks me to.”
He was doing that job exceptionally well, earning widespread praise both for his defensive diligence and his ability to contribute further forward from a wide role. So good was Saka as an auxiliary left-back that Arteta even warned Kieran Tierney that he had a fight for a starting role on his hands when he returned from injury.
Those comments came nearly three months ago but in that time period Arsenal have only played one match. If the coronavirus-enforced shutdown of football has offered any silver lining for the Gunners it has been the chance for Arteta’s squad to recuperate and after the injury crisis that limited his options in defence he now has a near fully-fit squad to work with.
What that means for Saka’s future role may be apparent from Arteta’s groupings at training. Arsenal returned to London Colney in groups late last week with their head coach splitting his squad by positions, defensive-minded players working on some tactical plans whilst his forwards worked elsewhere.
Notably the likes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, also a reluctant full-back, and Matteo Guendouzi were working with the defenders but Saka was nowhere to be seen. Instead he trained with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Reiss Nelson and Alexandre Lacazette, a possible indication that Arteta views the 18-year-old as one of his attacking options.
Of Saka’s 30 appearances in all competitions for Arsenal this season 15 have come as a winger, predominantly on the left flank. In those matches he has scored two goals and provided five assists as opposed to one goal and four assists as a left back.