One area we can improve the team is back up to Bukayo Saka.
He and Thomas Partey are the only players in our team that do not have a quality “natural replacement”. Although we do now have Jorginho.
Arteta expects players of Saka’s quality to play 60-70 games a season, and he is correct in that thinking.
World Class players rarely get rested or rotated. From Lionel Messi to Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Vinicius Junior. All of these have regularly played 60+ games a season for club and country since they were Saka’s age.
If Saka wants to be in the discussion of “generational great” alongside someone like Vinicius, he has to play almost every game.
But that does not mean we do not need cover and competition.
An injury is always one bad tackle away, and Saka receives a lot of late, bad tackles. Also you need someone who will keep Saka on his toes. Someone to push him.
When looking for someone to replace Saka, they need to have certain qualities:
Left footed – you always want a replacement to be a “like for like”. This allows you to make a change without altering the structure of the team. Saka coming inside is such an important asset to our attacking play. A right footed player would not offer that option (unless they are two footed).
U24 – not a huge issue, but I would be concerned about a 28-year-old being happy to join Arsenal knowing they would be second choice to a 21-year-old, and only really play when that individual is injured. You want someone who is young and hungry and see joining Arsenal as a chance to progress his career. An elder player happy to sit on the bench would probably only be looking for his last big pay day.
Technically sound – Saka does not try and pace and power to beat players. He has fantastic balls skills, a great touch and eye for a pass. He is a goal scorer and creator. He is not a “head down and run” winger that puts a ball in and hopes a striker gets on the end of it. He gets his head up to put a cross in. His replacement also needs to be technically sound.
Defensive work rate – Arsenal defend from the front. Jesus, Saka, Martinelli, Odegaard and Xhaka all put pressure on the opponents defence. We do not carry any player defensively. And it would make no sense to have a junior player (ie Saka’s replacement) thinking they do not need to put in the same defensive shift as the man he is replacing. He should be working harder than Saka to impress.
Versatile – finally, Saka’s understudy needs to be versatile. He might not get much game time on the right so will need to also provide Arteta an option elsewhere. Mikel loves his versatile players, from Ben White at right back and centre back, to Gabriel Jesus down the middle and on the wings. Almost everyone in the squad can play in at least two positions. Saka’s cover needs to be able to play either inside or upfront, which will further strengthen the squad.
So who are the options to be Saka’s replacement this summer? We discuss that tomorrow.
We already have ample cover for Bukayo’s position in Trossard who is ambidextrous and also Gabriel Jesus who operated mostly as a right winger very effectively in his final year with City. I obviously don’t believe it needs to be a like for like replacement, we just need someone who contributes massively and both the guys I mentioned already do. We should focus instead on a classic no 9 to give an alternative attacking option whilst bringing through the likes of Marquinos and Crozier–Duberry from the academy..
There is certainly an option that instead of buying a right winger, we purchase a forward and Jesus then becomes Saka’s cover
Only issue with that is would a top striker join Arsenal to be second choice to Jesus? Take someone like Toney. He could start for Chelsea or Manchester United. Why would he join us to sit on our bench?
And players below the quality of Toney would probably be no better option than Nketiah
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