Happy end of international break. I hate these breaks. Theres no holiday to get you through, and even after the major winter holiday there are a slew of games, and you’re stuck trying to find things to do with your weekend. Which inevitably means you have to suffer through a moment of realization that you have nothing to do on the weekend outside of watching football.
The realization that the habit is so engrained into your routine that the rest of the weekend just forms around those hours of football watching. There’s a comfort to it for me. And a real discomfort without it.
Don’t get me wrong, I was more than capable of finding other things to do. I mean, I do have a life and hobbies and options for things. They just aren’t as good as watching Arsenal play. They aren’t even as good as suffering through a bad Arsenal performance. That’s right, I would rather suffer angrily through an unbearable stinker of a ninety minutes, and then inevitably stew in my anger for however long after, until my girlfriend crashes me back to reality and questions ‘why I seem off’, which of course is a question that helps less than nothing. But hey, that’s the life we’ve chosen.
But that’s behind us until this season’s Winter break, and even then we get a World Cup and holidays while we wait for the red and white to return, which means, life feels good right now. At least almost back to normal, but ‘normal’ right now for Arsenal feels pretty damn good!
And since I’m declaring the break over as we all turn our eyes toward the weekend, that means we end on a great note in England’s draw with Germany. Yes, I’m ignoring the Arsenal players that played yesterday. No, England did not play well. In fact, they looked horrible… until they subbed on Bukayo Saka, of course.
Earlier in the break, England’s manager Southgate decided to use Saka as a left wingback, which frankly is behind the times in Saka’s development. He hasn’t played there in any real capacity in over a year and to no one’s surprise it didn’t go well. It was a manager setting up his player for a long, tough night and, look, he had one.
When the team sheet came out for their matchup with Germany and Saka’s name was on the bench, I was rather relieved. I didn’t need him to have another discouraging night under Southgate’s idiocy and definitely didn’t need him picking up an injury “for the cause”. Just wrap him in cotton wool and get him back to London Colney for the weekend.
But when his number came up on the board in what had been a dismal game, I couldn’t help but perk up. What I didn’t expect was him to walk onto the field and be involved in three goals in his first seven touches. He opened up England’s right wing to make it far more effective which lead to more space for Reece James to get an assist, he got the direct assist to Mason Mount, and it’s his ball that is played into the feet that would be fouled in the box to give England their third goal.
Now, I won’t go on and on and boast as if the boy walked onto the field, scored three goals, and walked off with the ball declaring the match done and dusted, but he was an undeniable spark and that should be no surprise to any Arsenal fan. He’s a star that offers any side an electric jumpstart when he’s on the wing. While some may be lulled into dismissing him because he isn’t flips and tricks and skills, he’s wildly effective and entirely evasive. Why over complicate your game when you can do enough to beat your man, get into a dangerous area, and create chances?
And while some are willing to overlook Saka after a slower start to the season, this silent assassin has been collecting stats that back up his star value and place him in good Premier League company. Saka is:
- 2nd in assists behind only Kevin de Bruyne (4)
- 6th in assist per 90 (.58)
- 8th in Goals + Assists (5)
- 8th in key passes (14)
- 10th in passes into the penalty area (12)
- 10th in shot-creating actions (25)
- 7th in shot-creating actions per 90 (4.29)
- 2nd in goal-creating actions (7)
- 6th in goal-creating actions per 90 (1.02)
- 2nd in carries into the final third (20)
- 2nd in carries into the penalty area (15)
- 10th in fouls drawn (14)
These aren’t just rankings “on Arsenal” nor including some kind of cup domination stat-padding fixtures, these are for the entire Premier League. And while some of these may feel insignificant or varied in placement, I would say any time you rank in the top 10 in the entire league for a stat, you’re pretty good at that aspect of the game. To rank top 10 in twelve different stats in this league, you’re a top, top player.
Earlier this season, I wrote about Arsenal’s project still being dependent on rising stars. That their success is only capped by what Martinelli, Saka, and Ødegaard can bring for them. It’s a belief built around the idea that those three carry the keys to Arsenal’s attack, an aspect that came into the season ready for immense improvement, and they double as young stars whose prospective ceilings remain undiscovered while also seemingly being on the brink of further leaps in levels of play and production.
Last year Saka tallied 18 goal contributions (11 goals, 7 assists). Ødegaard tallied 11 contributions (7 goals, 4 assists) and was my candidate for breakout player of the year. He seems right on the brink of having his whole game click into place and tip from good performances to immense production. Finally, Martinelli tallied 12 contributions (6 goals, 6 assists) and did it in just 20.7 full-90’s. It’s easy to imagine a world in which Ødegaard finds his way to 15+ G/A, Martinelli adds another six to his group, Saka nudges his way into the twenties, and then the addition of Jesus looks even better than it already has so far.
At that point, it will come down to delivering their best performances at the right time. Learning to take on board their tough days a fight their way to results or seizing their good days to put teams to the sword. And with Saka putting together the statistics we looked at above, and showing just how effective of a game-changer he can be when put in his preferred right wing role, that’s an exciting dream to hold out hope for as we head into a congested October that will undoubtedly play a large role in where Arsenal finish this season.