Mikel Arteta tips 'ruthless' Bukayo Saka to fire Arsenal through to the Champions League knockouts… but the Gunners boss is guarding against complacency ahead of Lens clash
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Mikel Arteta tips 'ruthless' Bukayo Saka to fire Arsenal through to the Champions League knockouts… but the Gunners boss is guarding against complacency ahead of Lens clash

Dec 31, 2023
  • Arsenal play Lens at the Emirates on Wednesday night in the Champions League 
  • But Mikel Arteta is backing ‘star boy’ Bukayo Saka to fire them to the knockouts 
  • Gary Neville in a heated gilet at Goodison! He used to be a tough defender… what’s going on? Listen to It’s All Kicking Off

It was five years ago in the cold of Ukraine when the ‘starboy’ stepped forward.

In reality Bukayo Saka’s journey had begun 10 years earlier after he joined Arsenal’s pre-academy as a seven-year-old.

Yet even those who had high hopes for Saka would be surprised by the trajectory he has followed since that 22-minute cameo against Vorskla Poltava for his first-team debut.

Arsenal won that Europa League match 3-0 and Unai Emery handed Saka a further three appearances in that 2018-19 season, but under Mikel Arteta, Saka’s transformation has been remarkable.

The 22-year-old, given the starboy tag by Arsenal fans, has always had a killer final ball, as reflected by his 12 assists as a teenager in the 2019-20 season.

Mikel Arteta has backed 'star boy' Bukayo Saka to fire Arsenal through to the knockout stages of the Champions League

Mikel Arteta has backed ‘star boy’ Bukayo Saka to fire Arsenal through to the knockout stages of the Champions League

Arteta lumped praise on Saka, lauding him for his 'ruthlessness' on the pitch as well as his humility off it

Arteta lumped praise on Saka, lauding him for his ‘ruthlessness’ on the pitch as well as his humility off it

The Arsenal boss said that 'it is impossible not to love Bukayo' who has scored six goals in all competitions this season

The Arsenal boss said that ‘it is impossible not to love Bukayo’ who has scored six goals in all competitions this season

But Arteta challenged Saka to add goals to his game. Challenge accepted, his tally has increased with each campaign, reaching 15 in all competitions last season.

Arsenal’s possible team to play Lens 

ARSENAL (probable, 4-3-3): Raya; Tomiyasu, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko; Odegaard, Rice, Havertz; Saka, Jesus, Martinelli. 

‘He’s got that ruthless mentality now to be the best that he can be every single day and to really be there on the pitch to affect games and win games for the team,’ said Arteta ahead of Wednesday’s visit of Lens in which a point will send Arsenal into the knockout stages with a game to spare.

‘It is impossible not to love Bukayo,’ continued the Gunners boss. ‘You sit with him two minutes, you get to know him and you get shocked at what a special character and person he is. At the same time he is so humble, but he’s that person that sets the line there (high) and that’s enough, and that’s a big quality I think.’

Only Emile Smith Rowe, Eddie Nketiah and Saka remain from Emery’s class of 2019 and it is Saka’s willingness to adapt combined with his work ethic that have taken his game to new levels. Leandro Trossard certainly believes so. The telepathic connection between the pair has seen Saka assist all seven of the Belgian’s goals for the Gunners.

He proved pivotal in his side''s 1-0 win against Brentford at the weekend setting up Kai Havertz for the winner

He proved pivotal in his side”s 1-0 win against Brentford at the weekend setting up Kai Havertz for the winner

Meanwhile, Arsenal defender Ben White did not train with the side on Tuesday but is available for Wednesday's Champions League clash against Lens

Meanwhile, Arsenal defender Ben White did not train with the side on Tuesday but is available for Wednesday’s Champions League clash against Lens

‘He has so much quality,’ said Trossard. ‘He can make that one pass in the 18-yard box and you just need to be ready.’

Arteta is seeking revenge against a team who beat his in France last month and a win will ensure Arsenal top the group.

The Arsenal boss added: ‘We know they will cause us problems. We have experienced a defeat against them so we have the right motivation to put that right.’

Ben White did not train with the group on Tuesday, though Arteta expects him to be available. He is without Fabio Vieira, who has been ruled out until January after having groin surgery.

But with Saka, Arsenal can reach for the stars.

IT’S ALL KICKING OFF! 

It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football, launching with a preview show today and every week this season.

It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube , Apple Music and Spotify



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