Saka Arsenal Wonderkid

Introduction

Bukayo Ayoyinka Temidayo Saka, born on September 5, 2001, is a talented English professional footballer renowned for his versatility. He excels as a right winger, midfielder, and full-back.
Saka proudly represents both the Premier League club Arsenal and the England national team. His exceptional skills have earned him a reputation as one of the most outstanding young players globally.

Saka’s entire professional club career has been devoted to Arsenal, where he has achieved notable successes. He clinched an FA Cup title and secured victory in two FA Community Shields, progressively emerging as one of Arsenal’s foremost and impactful players.
For two consecutive seasons, 2020–21 and 2021–22, he was honoured with the title of Arsenal’s Player of the Season.

Saka’s journey with the English national team began with his representation at various youth levels. In October 2020, he marked his debut for the senior team. His talents also graced England’s presence at the UEFA Euro 2020, and he continued to contribute to the nation’s efforts in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Early Life

Saka was born in Ealing, Greater London, into a family of Yoruba Nigerian descent. He is the younger of two siblings, born to Adenike and Yomi Saka. His parents moved to London from Nigeria seeking better economic opportunities. Saka’s educational journey took him from Edward Betham Church of England Primary School to Greenford High School, where he excelled in his GCSEs, achieving remarkable results with A* grades and As.

Before his tenure with Arsenal, Saka honed his footballing skills in the youth ranks of the local club Greenford Celtic. In an interview, Saka emphasised the pivotal role of his father, Yomi, in shaping his footballing career, stating, “He’s a significant source of inspiration for me. Since my youth, he’s consistently grounded and humbled me.”

The name “Bukayo” holds roots in the Yoruba language, prevalent in southern Nigeria, and signifies “adds to happiness”.

Early Career:

Having previously played for youth teams of Watford, Saka joined Arsenal’s Hale End academy at the age of seven.

In a 2020 interview, Arsenal U16 coach Trevor Bumstead remarked, “Bukayo consistently stood out in the younger teams. He displayed exceptional decision-making skills, knowing when to take on opponents and when to distribute the ball. His physical attributes were remarkable, complemented by a strong character and personality.” Upon turning 17, Saka secured a professional contract from Arsenal and was elevated to the under-23 squad.

On November 29, 2018, Saka marked his debut for Arsenal’s first team in a UEFA Europa League clash against Vorskla Poltava, entering the field as a substitute for Aaron Ramsey in the 68th minute.

On December 13, he earned his first full home debut for Arsenal in the Europa League match against Qarabağ. On January 1, 2019, Saka made his inaugural appearance in the Premier League, contributing to a 4–1 triumph against Fulham by replacing Alex Iwobi in the 83rd minute. Notably, he became the inaugural player born in 2001 to participate in a Premier League fixture. Although he didn’t play, he received a runners-up medal in the UEFA Europa League final, where Arsenal fell 4–1 to Chelsea on May 29, 2019.

2019–20: Breakthrough and FA Cup Triumph:
Saka netted his debut goal, elegantly curling a long-range shot into the corner of the net against German side Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League. He not only scored but also contributed two assists in a resounding 3–0 victory. His commendable performance in Germany earned him his maiden Premier League start, which came in a 3–2 home victory against Aston Villa. Additionally, he provided an assist for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, playing a vital role in Arsenal’s 1–1 draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Following injuries to Sead Kolašinac and Kieran Tierney, Saka began establishing himself as a mainstay in the Arsenal first team as a left-back. On January 27, 2020, he opened the scoring in Arsenal’s 2–1 victory over AFC Bournemouth in the FA Cup fourth round, contributing to a 22-pass move.
He also assisted Eddie Nketiah’s goal, which was chosen as the goal of the round by BBC Sport. After a two-week mid-season hiatus, Saka made a successful return against Newcastle United, setting up Nicolas Pépé’s goal. Further displaying his prowess, he assisted Alexandre Lacazette in a 1–0 victory against Olympiacos in the Europa League. He then hit double figures for assists that season after crossing in for Nketiah in a thrilling 3–2 home win against Everton.

On July 1, 2020, Saka signed a new long-term contract with Arsenal. Head coach Mikel Arteta praised Saka, stating, “He embodies the core values of this football club. Having risen through the academy ranks, he’s earned respect through hard work and accountability, showcasing his growth not only as a player but also as a person.” On July 4, 2020, he clinched his first Premier League goal for the club, securing a 2–0 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers with a spectacular half-volley that evaded goalkeeper Rui Patrício. While he was unused in Arsenal’s 2–1 FA Cup win against Chelsea, he received a runners-up medal. In recognition of his contributions, Saka earned third place in the vote for Arsenal’s Player of the Season award in the 2019–20 campaign.

2020–21: Arsenal Player of the Season:
On August 29, 2020, Saka commenced the 2020 FA Community Shield in the starting lineup, registering an assist for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The match concluded with Arsenal securing a 5–4 penalty shootout victory over Liverpool, following a 1–1 draw at the end of regular time. He initiated the 2020–21 season with a goal, finding the net in a 2–1 triumph over Sheffield United at the Emirates Stadium. However, he also suffered an unfortunate own goal, inadvertently turning in a cross during a 0-3 home defeat against Aston Villa.

On Boxing Day in 2020, Saka celebrated his 40th Premier League appearance for Arsenal by scoring in a 3–1 victory against Chelsea at home. His standout performances in December earned him the title of Arsenal Player of the Month on the official club website.
He continued to shine in January, securing the Player of the Month award after scoring three goals and assisting another across various competitions. Notably, his goal against West Bromwich Albion was a runner-up in Arsenal’s Goal of the Month competition. Saka’s exceptional form persisted into February, where he garnered the Player of the Month accolade for the third time that season, contributing one goal and two assists.

Saka reached a significant milestone on March 6, 2021, as he marked his 50th Premier League appearance for Arsenal during a 1–1 draw against Burnley. This achievement made him the second youngest player in the club’s history to achieve this feat. Further highlighting his prowess, Saka scored a goal in Arsenal 4–0 victory over Slavia Prague in the Europa League quarter-final on April 15. His outstanding performance earned him the title of Europa League Player of the Week. Concluding the season, he contributed seven goals and seven assists in 46 appearances across all competitions.
These accomplishments led to him being named Arsenal’s Player of the Season, building upon his third-place finish in the previous season. Additionally, he secured a spot on the shortlist for the PFA Young Player of the Season, eventually won by Phil Foden of Manchester City.

2021–22: Top Scorer and Repeat Arsenal Player of the Season:

Saka opened his account for the 2021–22 season in a resounding 6–0 victory over West Bromwich Albion in the EFL Cup second round, showcasing his scoring ability. In September, he netted his first Premier League goal of the season against Tottenham Hotspur, also providing an assist for Emile Smith Rowe’s goal in a 3–1 win at the Emirates Stadium.
On October 30, he celebrated his 100th appearance for Arsenal by contributing an assist in a 2–0 away triumph over Leicester City. December 26 saw Saka score a brace in a comprehensive 5–0 victory against Norwich City, making him the second youngest Arsenal player after Nicolas Anelka to score 10 Premier League goals.

While Arsenal finished fifth in the Premier League, narrowly missing out on UEFA Champions League qualification, Saka’s commitment remained unwavering. After a 2–0 defeat to Newcastle United that all but confirmed Arsenal’s Champions League absence, Saka openly criticised his own performance and expressed disappointment, acknowledging missed opportunities for the team’s success. 

His consistent standout performance made him a nominee for the Premier League Player of the Season, Premier League Young Player of the Season, and PFA Young Player of the Year awards. Remarkably, Saka secured his second consecutive Arsenal Player of the Season award, a feat last achieved by Thierry Henry in 2003 and 2004.

2022–23: Pursuit of the Title:
Saka emerged as a vital figure for Arsenal during the 2022–23 season, contributing crucial goals as the team pursued their first Premier League title since 2003–04. His 100th Premier League appearance came on August 20, 2022, in a 3–0 victory against Bournemouth, making him the second youngest Arsenal player to reach this milestone.
On October 9, he played a pivotal role by scoring two goals, including a match-winning penalty in the 76th minute, as Arsenal secured a 3–2 victory over Liverpool. This result propelled Arsenal to the top of the table, a position they maintained until mid-February. Further demonstrating his impact, Saka contributed a goal against Manchester United in a thrilling 3–2 victory on January 22, 2023, earning him Arsenal’s Goal of the Month award for January. In a remarkable turnaround, he scored Arsenal’s first equaliser against Aston Villa on February 18, contributing to a 4–2 victory.
This win helped Arsenal reclaim the top spot, which they had briefly lost to Manchester City earlier that week. Despite their valiant efforts, Arsenal ultimately fell short of the title to Manchester City.

March 13 witnessed Saka receiving the Men’s Young Player of the Year award at the 2023 London Football Awards. His achievements continued as he secured the Premier League Player of the Month award for March 2023, becoming the 22nd different Arsenal player to win this honour. His exceptional form persisted into May, as he signed a new long-term contract with Arsenal on May 23, 2023.

2023–24 Season:

On August 26, 2023, Saka achieved a club record by making his 83rd consecutive Premier League appearance for Arsenal, showcasing his consistency and dedication.

International Career:

Youth Career:
Saka represented England in various youth levels, including under-16, under-17, under-18, under-19, and under-21 teams.

In May 2018, he was selected for England’s under-17 squad for the 2018 UEFA European Under-17 Championship held in the host country. However, the team was eliminated by the Netherlands in the semi-finals, where Saka contributed by scoring a penalty kick during the shootout.

Saka showcased his skills for the England under-18 team in September 2018, scoring the winning goal in an away match against France. He continued to impress and received his first call-up to the England under-19 team in November. He marked his debut at this level by scoring in a 2019 UEFA European Under-19 Championship qualifier against Moldova.

Senior Career:
On September 4, 2020, Saka made his debut for the England under-21 team, participating in a 6–0 victory against Kosovo. Later, on October 1, he received his first call-up to the England senior squad and made his international debut as a starter in a 3–0 victory over Wales. With four appearances for England, Saka is now committed to representing England internationally, no longer eligible to play for Nigeria.

Saka’s inclusion in the 26-man squad for UEFA Euro 2020 was announced on June 1, 2021. In a friendly against Austria on June 2, he scored his debut senior international goal, securing a 1–0 win.
He also started in England’s third Euro 2020 group stage match against the Czech Republic on June 22, earning the title of man of the match. In the tournament final against Italy on July 11, Saka was substituted in during extra time and later selected to take England’s fifth penalty in the shoot-out. Unfortunately, his penalty was saved, and Italy emerged as the tournament winners. Saka faced online racial abuse following the penalty miss. In a subsequent Instagram post on July 15, he addressed the hate and criticized platforms for not doing enough to prevent such messages.

On September 23, 2022, Saka earned the title of England Men’s Player of the Year for the 2021–22 season, making him the first Arsenal player to receive this honor. He was named in England’s 26-man squad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup on November 10. During England’s opening match at the tournament, he scored twice in a 6–2 victory over Iran and once in England’s 3–0 win against Senegal in the round of 16. On December 10, Saka started in England’s quarter-final defeat to France and was recognized as the man of the match by both the BBC and L’Équipe. On June 19, 2023, he achieved his first career hat-trick in a Euro 2024 qualifying game against North Macedonia, leading his team to a resounding 7–0 victory.

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