England slumped to defeat against Belgium on Sunday.
Falling two goals behind in the opening 24 minutes, the match seemed well beyond the Three Lions’ reach. Far from atrocious yet hardly inspiring, it wasn’t until the 38th minute where the visitors began to pose more of a threat. What changed? Something Arsenal related.
The introduction of a certain Bukayo Saka. That’s what.
Ben Chilwell had started in Leuven for his first England game in a year, but injury forced him off and Saka assumed the left-wing back role. Called into defensive action of a handful of occasions, he managed situations well.
Nobody walked away from England’s 2-0 defeat pondering over such contributions, though. Following on from a standout display against the Republic of Ireland, the 19-year-old was the best player on the pitch behind the virtuoso Jack Grealish.
In just a few short minutes, Saka offered England an entirely different dimension. The runs he made in behind offered the visitors fresh angles of attack. Greater incision and penetration in that area was what England were lacking, with a sluggish forward line only wanting the ball to feet.
Arsenal already know what a fine problem-solver Saka is. Like the irritatingly bright kid at school who could decipher even the toughest algebra equations, he’s mastered the art of lockpicking.
Exploiting space both in and out of possession makes him a constant threat, which we’ve seen every week in the Premier League as well as throughout his minutes with the Three Lions this international break.
As you’d expect, Southgate was pleased, as quoted by Metro.
"“There were several players who it’s the very early stages of their international careers, who were excellent. Jack [Grealish] is the obvious one, his performance was outstanding, but I also thought Bukayo as well.“Coming into a game like that as a very young player, against an experienced player like [Thomas] Meunier. He had an excellent game on the left when he came into it.”"
Creating the most chances on the pitch, not conceding a goal when playing for England and sending Kevin De Bruyne back to Manchester, Saka is well on his way – if not already – to being a regular starter for his country.
England welcome Iceland in their next Nations League clash, and while us selfish Arsenal lot us would rather he stayed on the bench, we must laud his achievement and avoid being greedy