Arsenal have a decision to make on Bukayo Saka this weekend, as he could arguably feature in any one of three age groups for the Gunners.
Saka has arguably been one of Arsenal’s most impressive and consistent performers in the academy this season. The young winger has 11 goals, nine assists and one penalty won leading to a goal, in 28 youth appearances (20 starts). He’s been just as impressive with the England u19s, with three goals and an assist in just 220 minutes.
The most impressive part is that Saka is still just 17. He’ll still be eligible for u18 football even next season, yet he’s already featured for the first team this campaign, to good effect.
That leads us to the decision Arsenal have to make this weekend. First up, Arsenal u23s play against Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium on Friday. Then, the Arsenal u18s play away to Fulham on Saturday. Finally, the first team play against Leicester City at the King Power Stadium on Sunday.
Saka’s last u18 start was last September, but the young side are now on the verge of winning the u18 Premier League title, and he could help them top the southern division with a win over Fulham on Saturday. However, the match is arguably below his level, and he’d get more out of a game against u23s on the Emirates pitch.
At the same time, the first-team wingers are performing poorly, so perhaps he should even receive a call-up at that level. Meaning no disrespect to the u18s or the u23s, the most important thing for Arsenal Football Club is to return to the Champions League next season. If Saka can help the senior side at all, he should.
It’s a tough call for the Arsenal staff. Do they use their most talented u18 prospect to secure silverware at that level? Do they put the development of the player first and use him in the u23s? Do they risk not playing him at all, to keep him available for the first team, just in case?
Personally, I’d recommend putting Saka on the bench for the u18s, bringing him on if necessary, then having him join the first-team squad on Sunday. That seems to provide the best mix of individual experience and immediate usefulness to Arsenal. We’ll see what the club decide.