Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has hailed 19-year-old Bukayo Saka as the type of leader that the squad needs after the youngster again shone in Tuesday night’s important win over Southampton, pushing the Gunners into the top half of the table.
From a run of wretched from early November until Christmas, Arsenal have now taken 16 points from the last 18 on offer in the Premier League. Saka in particular has played a crucial part in that, operating from a new role on the right flank and scoring four goals plus two assists.
With Arsenal seeking revenge for FA Cup elimination at the weekend, Tuesday night at St Mary’s was no different. He scored the go-ahead second goal and set up the third for Alexandre Lacazette to make the result more comfortable in the closing stages.
Stepping up to be counted as a leader in a squad that has largely been criticised for not having enough players of that type, especially in the absence of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, is huge.
“He's got that [leadership],” Arteta reflected on Saka’s performance, via Arsenal.com.
“He's really humble, really respectful but at the same time he's got that character within him and on the pitch he can demand the ball. He can make actions and decisions that is not very usual at his age.
“That's something that is great because we need that leadership and he's gaining that with his performances and attitude around the team.”
Saka is at his best in an attacking role, although Arteta has admitted he will continue to use the player in a defensive full-back or wing-back role from time to time because of a lack of depth.
Left-back was where he spent much of a breakout season in 2019/20, while he has again operated as a wing-back this season, usually when Arteta opts for a back-three and Kieran Tierney shifts inside.
“I think he's much better when he plays in the last line of our attack. The truth is that we have only one left-footed full back and sometimes we'll have to use him [at left-back],” the Arsenal boss explained.
“It's good for his development as well to play there. Last season he played a lot of games there and became a much better player. He's got that talent and he's always keen to play in different positions. But obviously in certain moments, we have to try to find some stability for him.
“We just need to focus on where we are heading with him.”
Arsenal could lessen the need for Saka to play defensively if they were to sign another left-back in the transfer market to compete with and provide cover for Tierney.
The Gunners have this week been linked with Marseille’s Jordan Amavi, who formerly played in the Premier League for Aston Villa and is due to become a free agent in the summer. Crystal Palace and Napoli are also said to be interested in the player.