The slaloming, jinking runs of Bukayo Saka have become the theme of our season.
And possibly one of the reasons we have been able to realistically aim for the Top four spots.
Saka’s deft touch and ability to accelerate rapidly has left some of the most illustrious defenders in the Premier League dumped uselessly on the turf, stricken with a helpless look on their face. They look behind them to see our number seven surging into the penalty area to create an opportunity that they cannot do anything to stop.
If the majority of defenders attempt to stymie Saka by going up against him with the same tools, the odds are not in their favour. Saka as shown repeatedly that a dropped shoulder and his intelligent use of the ball, allied with his control, is a potent combo.
So what else is there for a defender to do, but use their physical prowess to stop the young Gunner?
If positioned correctly, a defender CAN plug the gaps that Saka looks to maximise and drive into. But when most opposition players are not only watching the twirling feet of Saka but the runs of Martinelli, Cedric and possibly Smith-Rowe? It means they can’t fully apply themselves to the task.
So a block, a shove or more often than not, a kick, is the weapon chosen by those who seek to stop Saka.
Our Hale End boy spoke out in a rare moment of candidness after our impressive 1-0 win over Aston Villa. Saka highlighted the need for a little more protection for him during games, when defenders are simply kicking him to thwart his runs.
“I wasn’t obviously complaining,” Saka said. “But I just wanted to let him (the referee) know that that’s my game.
“I’m going to run at players and sometimes I need a bit more protection when players are purposefully trying to kick me. So that’s what I was letting them know.”
And Saka is not the first player to ask of this in the Premier League. Cristiano Ronaldo was also kicked from pillar to post when the opposition got tired of his dancing feet. And there have been other players who have highlighted the robust nature of the game and how flair players should be allowed to play the game without fear of being fouled simply because they are too good for the players they face.
Steven Gerrard disagreed however. The Aston Villa boss spoke the day after the game and his take on Saka’s pleas for more protection has been widely criticised.
“He’s a good player, an outstanding talent. I love him,” Gerrard said.
“But he can’t complain about that side of it, that’s football.
“I’m sitting here now with screws in my hips. I’ve had about 16 operations.
“I’m struggling to go to the gym at the moment.
“That’s all on the back of earning a living in English football. He’ll learn and he’ll learn quick.
“He said we were too rough? They didn’t commit any fouls today? Listen, it’s part of the game.
“The last time I checked, it wasn’t a no-contact sport. I think tackles are allowed, physicality is allowed, aggression is allowed as long as it’s fair.”
And with his comments, it clearly shows Gerrard completely missed Saka’s valid points.
And also highlighted his blatant hypocrisy, see image below…
Saka never cried out against the fair use of physicality. It is the constant fouls that he wants referees to penalise. Gerrard accused Saka of saying Villa were too rough.
Saka didn’t. He asked the referee to blow the whistle for fouls.
And when our number 7 got scythed down by Tyrone Mings with a hefty kick to the ankle, it appeared as though Saka’s comments were justified.
Flair players need to be able to fully express themselves, without fear of being impaled by a swinging boot of frustration.
And for esteemed people in the game to call out Saka and any other player for highlighting this is contradicting the point. There are no rules for players having to put up ‘with the rough side of the game.’
Saka merely asked for the rules of the game to be upheld.