Bukayo Saka admits left-back still isn’t his natural position, but the chance to play it is a learning experience he hopes will enhance his career.
Bukayo Saka is regularly playing at left-back for Arsenal at the moment. At first, this was because of Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac’s injury problems. The club simply didn’t have any senior alternatives, so they turned to their academy graduate winger.
At this point though, Kolasinac is back and Saka is still getting games. He explained what he thinks about playing left-back over the weekend.
“I’m really enjoying my football under the new manager,” Saka said. “It’s not my natural position but he’s given me all the advice I need.
“I learned a lot about how wingers in the Premier League play against defenders and how to position myself because in his system it’s different. I get to play much higher because the winger comes inside and I get to go.
“There’s a lot of space for me and it’s good for me. I’m playing sort of as a winger when we have the ball but without the ball, I have to come back and work on my clearances, my heading and stuff I haven’t worked on my whole life. I feel like I’m doing ok right now.
“In the future, if I do get to go back onto the wing I feel like I know how full-backs play and playing as a full-back I know what wingers do, what I like them to do and what I don’t like them to do. It’s a good learning experience for me.”
Does the position suit Saka?
In this system, the left-back position actually suits Saka very well. He can hug the touchline, which is where he’s most effective, racing around the outside of the defence and getting crosses in. It’s no accident he’s Arsenal’s top creator for assists this season.
As the player mentions himself, that job is made easier by the ‘winger’ (Aubameyang in this case) acting more like a wide forward and cutting inside. The opposition full-back has to choose between giving Saka space on the outside or Aubameyang space cutting in.
Whether by coincidence or design, Arteta stumbled onto a system that actually suited both of his young full-backs perfectly when he first joined. Saka could stay wide, whilst Ainsley Maitland-Niles could drift infield.
It’s actually Hector Bellerin who is having the tougher time right now. Playing the inverted full-back role doesn’t seem to suit him quite as well, as he really wants to be overlapping like Saka. His steady injury recovery is also a factor, of course.
It’s up to Arteta to find the setup that suits both players. Alternatively, to switch things up when Kolasinac, Tierney and Soares are all back and fully fit.