Bukayo Saka’s New Inverted Groove

Arsenal, Bukayo Saka (Photo by Sam Bagnall - AMA/Getty Images)
Arsenal, Bukayo Saka (Photo by Sam Bagnall - AMA/Getty Images) /

No, this is not a London-based sequel to the Disney classic of 2000.

Although, that does sound very watchable. I mean, it was a great film. Anyway, less of that, instead let’s take a look at a growing trend of the last few months: Bukayo Saka‘s new Arsenal groove.

The breakout star of the 2019/20 season was the club’s third best player of the season (as voted for by fans), a quite remarkable achievement for someone so young, thrown head first into the lion’s den.

Playing under three managers and countless different systems amid a backdrop of growing discontent from supporters, Saka has come out of it all with an A+ report card.

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It’s funny how the clamour for Ainsley Maitland-Niles to be retained at Arsenal stems mostly from his capability to slot into any one role so effortlessly, when in the very same squad there is a soon-to-be 19-year-old who’s played in no less than five different positions himself.

Getting the nod at left-winger to begin with, the injury crisis moved Saka into left-back, which then turned into attacking midfield, the left side of central midfield, a more regular left-sided midfielder and ultimately, now, a right-winger.

All of the above discounting for Mikel Arteta‘s desire for his players to fluidly segue into other positions based on the opposition’s setup or where the space lies. So, all in all, he’s played practically everywhere.

However, his most recent outing in the Community Shield saw him shifted out to the right, where he put in his most complete display in the inverted role to date.

Even for the most experienced and hardened professionals, switching flank poses a balancing act that is hard to adjust to. It requires a certain tactical intelligence that can take years to fully form, not to mention, obviously, you’re forced to use your weaker foot a bit more.

In his short time playing first team football, Saka has demonstrated maturity and composure. No matter the occasion or opposition, he knuckles down and sticks to the task at hand, brought to life by his youthful exuberance and meticulous reading of the play.

Against Liverpool he was once again at ease, but perhaps more so than in any of the previous stints in the position. Aware of his role throughout, he utilised the movements of Hector Bellerin to his right and Eddie Nketiah to his left to pick up pockets of space, the most notable being when he found the time to assist Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s opener with a superb cross-field pass.

In total, Saka’s three matches where he’s started on the right of the front three have resulted in one goal and two assists. It’s yet another unfamiliar role for the youngster, but at this point, there is nowhere on the pitch where he ever looks out of place. That’s attributed to belief from his manager as well as his own confidence, all tied together neatly with the undoubted raw talent he possesses.

Arsenal are lucky to have Bukayo Saka
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – JULY 21 (Photo by Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images) /

Questions marks remain over whether this is a long-term solution or not. Of all the positions he’s played in, right-winger has been the least common, while the lack of a match fit Nicolas Pepe has also had a say in the matter. Nevertheless, like a duck to water, Saka never looks flustered wherever he plays.

It’s a lot to ask of someone his age. Arsene Wenger liked to ease the academy stars into their favoured positions by honing their skills elsewhere, but he never bestowed them with such a varied array of tasks. All of these experiences will continue adding strings to his well-stocked bow.

Backed up by the stats and the effectiveness of his performances, however, it appears as if right-wing could be glimpse into the crystal ball. It will take plenty to knock Pepe off his perch, but Saka is certainly making a claim for himself.

Related Story. Is Nicolas Pépé at Risk of Being Left Behind?. light

His extensive répertoire of skills knows no end.