Record breaker Saka is a problem that Arteta will struggle to solve

Robin Bairner
Robin Bairner
  • Updated: 23 Sept 2023 11:14 BST
  • 4 min read
Bukayo Saka, Arsenal
© ProShots

When Bukayo Saka lines up for Arsenal against Tottenham in Sunday's Premier League encounter, as he invariably will, it will represent a club record for matches in the competition.

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The last time that Saka missed a Premier League match for Arsenal was the 2-0 victory over Newcastle in May 2021, when he watched the victory from the bench. He has played 85 successive fixtures since. The North London derby will be his 86th.

It is a remarkable record but also one that poses Mikel Arteta a problem: how do you backup a player who never misses a game?

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So far the approach has been clear: you simply don’t. Arsenal’s squad is bristling with talent across all positions, yet there is a void when it comes to support for Saka.

Of course, this is not a problem as long as the 22-year-old retains his remarkable durability, but invariably a time will come when injury strikes or, more probably, that the winger will simply need a rest to remain at his best level.

Saka’s use is presently brutal. He has featured in all but one minute of Premier League football this season, while he was given welcome respite in the 4-0 Champions League victory over PSV in midweek.

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But he cannot keep going on like this.

Of course, attracting an alternative will be no easy task. After all, which player worthy of being in Arsenal’s squad will want to act as support to one of the world’s leading players, knowing that game time is going to be limited to scraps.

It is a role best suited to a player seeking to develop or wind down their career.

Bukayo Saka and Mikel Arteta
© ProShots - Bukayo Saka and Mikel Arteta

Three options as Saka support

Using the data of analytics experts SciSports, FootballTransfers has drummed up a six-man shortlist of players who could be used to support Saka.

In an ideal world, Arsenal would like to be able to attract a player like Nico Williams. The Athletic Bilbao winger is out of contract at the end of the season, but it will be hard to attract him when Manchester United and Barcelona are likely to be able to offer guarantees of more minutes.

Similarly, Michael Olise of Crystal Palace would be an attractive player to chase, but how the 21-year-old sees the prospect of going from key player to bit-part is unclear.

PSV's promising winger Johan Bakayoko, who had been expected to leave the Eindhoven club this summer, may be keener to make the step up.

Johan Bakayoko
© ProShots - Johan Bakayoko

So what of Arteta’s other options? These players are similar in style to the Arsenal winger but who would not expect many first-team minutes at the Emirates.

One such example is Poland international Jakub Kaminiski of Wolfsburg, who has been reduced to a substitute role at the Bundesliga side. The 21-year-old is already a 10-time capped Poland international who emerged at Lech Poznan.

Arsenal are could also be advised to look at Velez Sarsfield teen Gianluca Prestianni, who could follow Gabriel Martinelli in making an early move to the Emirates. While SciSports have doubts over his ability to make an immediate impact, he has a high ceiling.

While both these players could be signed with an eye on the future, Rennes winger Benjamin Bourigeaud is someone who could make a more immediate impact. At 29 years old, the journeyman would surely welcome the opportunity to play at a club like Arsenal, even in a peripheral role. He would not have the same type of offensive explosiveness at Saka but does offer versatility, solidarity and a high level of technical skill.

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