Bukayo Saka currently faces a race against the clock to be fit for arguably Arsenal’s biggest game of the season so far as the Gunners host Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. There’s no doubt the 22-year-old will do everything in his power, as he always does, to be available for Mikel Arteta in three days time.
Bukayo Saka’s greatest strength is one that might not necessarily meet the eye at first glance. It’s not his skill, workrate or understanding of Mikel Arteta’s system – it’s none of them. It’s his durability. Bukayo Saka is always available for Mikel Arteta to choose from, evident by the fact he’s played the last 87 Premier League games for Arsenal which is a club record.
Now the Arsenal boss is praying the 22-year-old makes it to 88 Premier League games come Sunday.
Bukayo Saka hobbled off against RC Lens in the Champions League on Tuesday night, five days ahead of the game on Sunday. Arsenal fans around the world slammed Mikel Arteta for starting the winger after he’s had to be substituted in his last two starts due to knocks over the last week.
Saka came off injured in the North London Derby as well as against Bournemouth, however somehow he still manages to make it back on the pitch in time for Arsenal’s next game. The question is, can he do it again when Arsenal need him most?
This time it’s also different. It’s not just a knock Bukayo Saka needs to recover from in four days, it’s a hamstring strain which usually takes 1-2 weeks, as we’ve seen with Leandro Trossard and Gabriel Martinelli recently, with the former still not back in full first-team training, which makes Arsenal even more reliant on their number seven.
If there’s one man who can recover in time, then it’s Bukayo Saka. There’s no secret to his durability, in fact it’s a combination of many key factors that allow him to play week in, week out despite getting regularly targeted by his opponents. Since the start of last season, Saka has been fouled 76 times, the most of any Arsenal player and the sixth-most in the entire division, as per Telegraph Sport.
Within the club Bukayo Saka is viewed as the perfect professional who will do everything in his power to make sure he’s ready for the next game. From his professionalism, genetic advantages to his mother’s Nigerian home cooking, they all play a part in Bukayo Saka’s incredible availability.
Bukayo Saka has been at Arsenal since he was a schoolboy meaning the club’s medical department has 14 years worth of physical data on him. No one knows him better than Arsenal Football Club. They know what he needs, and when he needs it.
I know some fans disagreed with Mikel Arteta starting the 22-year-old on Tuesday night in France, but I’ll say it again, no one knows Saka better than Arsenal Football Club. He started the match because he was fit and available and clearly Arsenal needed him considering the performance after he left the field.
Gary O’Driscoll, the club doctor, on Bukayo Saka earlier this year: “We listen to him when he tells us about an issue. If he ever comes to us with a minor complaint, we know he means it, so we listen to him because he is one of the most honest people you can find.
“It is a remarkable story. You sit there and look for a problem but, even as a kid, his story was impeccable in that regard. He has never had to come into my office once to review a significant scan.”
Bukayo Saka picks up bruises and knocks just like any player, but it’s his attitude that puts him above the rest. If Saka feels a niggle after a game, he will then make it his mission in the following days to fix it. He treats his fitness as the absolute priority and there’s no doubt he’ll be doing that again this week as he aims to be fit for Arsenal’s biggest game of the season on Sunday.
At the end of the day he’s human and he can only do so much in four days, but we understand Bukayo Saka has been at London Colney since Wednesday taking everything in from the Arsenal medical staff to give himself the best possible chance in starting the match this weekend.
Ray Parlour recently on Bukayo Saka: “I went to the training ground not so long ago. Every single player had a day off, but Saka was in, doing a warm-down on the bike. He did not have to be there.”
Will Saka be available for Sunday? It will be a close one. The 22-year-old will face a late fitness test on the day of the game to determine whether he will make it 88 Premier League appearances in a row. However if there’s one player who can make it, then it’s Bukayo Saka.