Saka showing signs of Sterling rise but Arteta faces Man City dilemma

While it is still early days with Bukayo Saka at Arsenal, evidence suggests Arteta has found his latest pet project.

The 19-year-old is, of course, not at Sterling’s level yet, but his star is rising at a similar trajectory.

Arsenal have endured a difficult season and things do not get any easier when they face runaway leaders Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on Sunday. Saka, though, has been a shining light.

Since Arsenal beat Chelsea on Boxing Day, he has been at the heart of their upturn in form.

Last season, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was Arsenal’s talisman. Saka, who does not turn 20 until September, has taken over that mantle.

“I think he’s in a great moment, he’s full of confidence,” said the Gunners manager on Thursday night. “He’s been really important in recent results. His form is probably the highest it has been since I’ve been here and he’s been really consistent. He needs to keep going and [we need to] be wise with him, because at the moment he’s a big part of the team.”

The most startling thing about Saka’s rise is the pace with which he is doing it. Before last season, little was known about the Londoner. Since then, however, Saka has become the youngest Premier League player to reach double figures for goals (10) and assists (16) across all competitions.

All wingers aim to take that next step of adding goals to their game and Arteta knows that better than most, having helped Sterling to do so at City.

Arteta is credited with developing Sterling from a tricky winger into a goalscoring forward and the England international went from scoring 10 goals a season to 20.

Having been shifted to the right flank, there are signs that Saka is adding a similar goal threat to his game and the only fear you have with him is burnout. It is easy to forget given his importance to Arsenal, that he is so young.

“I think we have to protect him and keep the extractions [from the team] where they should be, but I’m not going to put a brake on his development or how much he can do week-in, week-out,” said Arteta.

“We have to support him and give him the best possible advice all the time and then manage his minutes so he can maintain this level.”

It is why Arteta will have to think carefully about whether he plays Saka against City.

The second leg of their last-32 Europa League tie with Benfica is next Thursday and, given Arsenal are 10th in the Premier League, winning that competition is the club’s best chance of getting back into the Champions League — which is exactly where Saka belongs.

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