It would be understandable if Gareth Southgate has stopped watching Arsenal this season. At this point, not even the club’s own fans are enjoying watching the Gunners play such has been the dismal standard of their recent performances. Slumped in ninth place in the Premier League and now out of the Europa League, their season is effectively already over. This, however, shouldn’t mask what Bukayo Saka has achieved this season which surely must have placed the youngster in England contention.
Alongside Emile Smith Rowe and Kieran Tierney, the 19-year-old has been Arsenal’s Player of the Year. Indeed, Saka is widely seen as one of the players Mikel Arteta should build around. He has shown up some of his more experienced teammates.
Saka’s sparkling performance in the win over West Brom on Sunday demonstrated what he offers. The teenager was a force of nature down the left wing, giving the visitors to the Emirates Stadium all sorts of problems throughout. While Saka’s decision-making could use some refinement, he makes things happen.
Predominately used on the right side by Arteta this season, Sunday proved that Saka is just as effective on the left. He is also capable of playing as a winger or as a wing back. “Going forwards we know Saka is a threat, he gives you something unique,” the Arsenal boss said afterwards. “He adapted. We believed we were going to attack against them and he gave us a lot of joy.”
Southgate should be taking note. The England manager has some difficult decisions to make over the coming weeks as he picks his squad for Euro 2020. The Three Lions are well-stocked for options all over the pitch and there will be more than a few talented players who miss out purely due to there simply not being enough space for them all.
Saka, however, should be included in his 26-man England squad (expanded by UEFA due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic this year). The 19-year-old might not be a starter for England this summer, but he would offer Southgate a number of valuable qualities that could come to the fore over the course of the tournament.
As already referenced, Saka is a versatile figure. Ben Chilwell and Luke Shaw give England good depth at left back, but neither player is as comfortable in the wing back role as Saka. Southgate has deployed a back three in the past and so having Saka around as an option to facilitate this system would be useful. That alone should thrust him into Southgate’s thought process.
There’s a fearlessness to Saka that makes him so difficult to play against. He is unpredictable and inherently potent. Southgate has arguably the best selection of wide forwards of any manager in international football right now, but even still, there’s a good case for picking the Arsenal man who has a natural knack for getting into areas opponents don’t want him to be.
It says a lot about the current strength of the England squad that Saka could miss out this summer. In years gone by, the teenager would be a key figure for the Three Lions heading into a major tournament, but Southgate’s crop is the strongest the country has produced in a generation. Saka certainly isn’t the only talented youngster England have.
He is, however, something a little different. England don’t necessarily need the 26 best players to take to Euro 2020. They need the right mix of qualities and profiles to make them contenders to win the tournament. Southgate needs a variety of options for England and Saka is two or three different options in one player.
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