Bukayo Saka is more than just an Arsenal prodigy.
Down the years Arsenal have both produced and hosted English internationals, accounting for 63 representatives during the period of the Three Lions’ first 1000 fixtures. Plenty of whom being defenders stemming from a spell of back four assurance in north London.
The list is long, but has dried up over the last decade with England squads more prominently bulked up with stars from the other half of north London.
While Bukayo Saka may not be a defender by trade, his regular inclusion in Gareth Southgate‘s troupe is paving the way for a fresh influx of Arsenal involvement. On Thursday evening, he played the full 90 minutes of the 3-0 win, offering the greatest example yet of what he can bring to the fold. The rest of the country may finally have awoken to his talents.
We, however, already knew this. From his first Arsenal goal against Eintracht Frankfurt little over a year ago to this point, the rate of his development, maturity and raw ability has made him integral to any positive facets of this Arsenal team. He’s quite outstanding.
Against the Republic of Ireland, you could have been forgiven for thinking he was wearing an Arsenal shirt with the manner of his performance. Set up as a left wing-back, Saka was handed licence to essentially play as a left-winger, pinning the Irish back frequently and linking up with Jack Grealish tantalisingly.
To have have a football brain as developed as his at just 19 years old is a remarkable trait, as few players in the Arsenal squad can recognise space in all areas of the pitch. After Thursday, England are learning that, too.
He delivered a string of great crosses and bullied defenders with his pace and trickery. He was rightly awarded the man of the match award for his virtuoso display. The collective disappointment – but acknowledgement – of Euro 2020’s postponement has become a blessing in disguise for the young man.
What he brings to the England fold is a dexterity across numerous offensive situations that, at this rate, make him a shoo-in for the final tournament squad. Southgate isn’t faced with a headache. If anything, he’s been given a warm foot rub as he can rest casually and comfortably knowing he has one position on the pitch nailed down.
Saka will go to the Euros. England can’t exempt such excellence.