Since Mikel Arteta was appointed in December of 2019 Arsenal‘s form has improved. In fact, until their exit in the Europa League, the Gunners were unbeaten in 2020. One player that has benefited from the new coach’s arrival is Bukayo Saka. The 18-year-old has made 17 appearances in the Premier League for Arsenal this season, six of those being from the bench. Recently however, the youngster has found himself as a regular starter at left-back.
This tactical analysis/,scout report will break down how the youngster is starting to cement his place in the team. As the Euros approach, it will analyse Saka and weather he could potentially find himself in the England squad for the summer as well. The tactical analysis/scout report will break down the tactics Arteta uses to get the best out of Saka.
Winger to Left-back
Before Arteta came in Saka typically played as a winger. However with both Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolašinac out injured, the manager has had to look to Saka. This has given the youngster a chance to prove himself. Not only has he become a threat going forward but he has also helped the Gunners’ defence, starting in four of Arsenals six clean sheets in the Premier League.
It is a natural movement from these two positions as managers often encourage their full-back to be good going forward. One of Saka’s strengths is his tackling. He has made the third-highest amount of tackles at Arsenal in 31 – only six less than Granit Xhaka who has played five times more than Saka, all of them being starts as well.
The image below shows Saka’s tackling strength. The image illustrates him one vs one against Callum Hudson-Odoi. Part of his success is how tight he gets to his man. Saka does not give Hudson-Odoi any space. This enables him to be ready for whatever direction he wants to try and go. Saka is then able to capitalise on a poor touch and win the ball back as pace and ability to be tight help him be good in one vs ones.
With Aubameyang playing on the left Saka does not have the same amount of cover, as a result, it requires one of the midfielders to cover his position if Arsenal lose the ball. This is a risk that Arteta is taking. However, he is aware that Saka’s pace enables him to get back in a defensive position. This essentially means that he has a licence to venture forward.
The image below illustrates how Olympiacos have the ball in the middle and look to attack down Arsenal’s left. In this example, it is Xhaka that is covering in the left-back position. This shows that Arteta has tactically prepared for this scenario. Due to Saka’s pace, he can get back to his position. This is a strength of his as he can quickly get up and down the pitch.
So far the scout report has mentioned how Saka is currently starting as a left-back. However part of Arteta tactics is for his full-backs to play high up the pitch. This is particularly beneficial to Saka as it allows him to get forward. Arsenal in recent weeks have been set up in a 4-2-3-1 system. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been starting as the attacking player on the left. This is a benefit for Saka as Aubameyang will look to cut inside. Therefore it means that teams will cover inside to stop this. As a result, it leaves more room on the wing for Saka to get forward.
The two images below show Saka’s heat maps against Newcastle and Everton. Notice how he spends the majority of his time in the opponents half. Also, look at how much time he spends in areas where he can cross the ball. This enables Saka to show his attacking qualities. The youngster has created four big chances and this is more than any of Arsenal’s midfielders.
The analysis has looked at the positions Saka has been taking. This can be effective as it forces the opponents to have more players behind the ball. It subsequently enables Aubameyang to play more centrally. This means that Saka’s role is to provide an outlet out wide and to leave more space in the middle for the forwards to operate in.
The example below shows Saka taking up the position out wide. In this game, Newcastle are trying to be narrow hence why he is in so much space. This is good for Saka since if he receives the ball, he has options and time to decide what to do. In this case, Aubameyang and Mesut Özil do not offer themselves for a pass back inside so Saka just runs towards them, demonstrating his ability on the ball.
So far this season Saka has three assists in the Premier League, which is a result of his attacking positioning and efficient crossing of the ball. Only Nicolas Pépé has had more for Arsenal. Part of the reason why is the positions Saka is taking up. The scout report has mentioned how he is encouraged to get forward. This has lead to Saka putting in 42 crosses. Part of his success with this is that he is a left-footed player. Because of this, he can deliver an out-swinging cross. These at times are more difficult for strikers to be accurate with on the header because they are going away from the goal. However, it also means that it’s harder for keepers to collect the ball.
The example below is from Saka’s assists against Newcastle. It illustrates how Arsenal are looking to play with Saka – with him effectively playing as a left-winger it enables Arsenal to get more bodies in the box. This makes it harder for teams to defend against as there are more players to mark.
Driving with the ball
One of Saka’s strengths is his ability to drive with the ball. It enables him to get into the advanced positions the scout report has talked about. It is something that catches the eye as his first thought on the ball is to go forward. He is also disciplined and stays out wide to keep the width for Arsenal. His ability to drive with the ball is useful for Arsenal as it means it takes opponents out of the game.
Despite starting as a left-back under Arteta, he effectively operates as a winger. The example below shows both Saka’s strength in driving with the ball and his decision making. The image shows how because his run with the ball has taken three Chelsea players out of the game. He then has the composure to lay off a pass to Gabriel Martinelli. The cross from Martinelli leads to a corner, which shows just how quickly Saka can turn defence into attack.
Saka is comfortable on the ball and is effective when he can drive with the ball. However, the full-back can also use his quick feet to get out of a tight situation. Part of the role he has is to get crosses in the box and to do this he will need to shift the ball away from the defender. He is not the biggest player but is happy getting stuck in. His low centre of gravity means he can turn quickly.
In the image below we see Saka has his back to the Burnley defender and does not have much room to work in. However, he can use his strength to hold off the defender and turn down the line. In doing so he takes out both the defender he is shielding against and the player further down the line. This demonstrates Saka’s ability to get away from three players this time with little space. It also shows his awareness to go around the left side instead of inside where there is another defender.
This scout report has looked at how Bukayo Saka has improved under Mikel Arteta. The young Englishman has stepped up with other players injured and with the way he is playing they will have to do well to get back into the squad. He suits the way Arteta is looking to play with Arsenal and is becoming a key player for them.
It may be a tournament too soon for Saka but he is defiantly one that Gareth Southgate should consider. Ben Chilwell has had a fantastic season for Leicester and is likely to be England’s starting left-back. However, with Danny Rose out on loan to Newcastle and Luke Shaw in and out of the Manchester United squad, Saka may well be a good fit for the Euro squad.