Bukayo Saka- Left Back or Left Wing?
18 year old Saka has scored 3 goals and has provided 9 assists this season for the gunners, but where is his best position for Arsenal going forward? (If, of course, he signs a new contract. SIGN DA TING BUKAYO!)
Along with Martinelli, Saka has been a bright spark in a not so promising season. He's impressed in both the left back and left wing position this season, and could arguably end the season as Arsenal's first choice left back ahead of Sead Kolasinac and summer signing Kieran Tierney. A pretty mean feat considering his age and his natural position being left wing.
I have to admit, I was skeptical when an attacking teenager was thrown into our already shaky defence, but his performances at left back have added extra dynamism to the Arsenal attack, particularly under Mikel Arteta.
It's Arteta's style of play that allows Saka to flourish. He provides the width on the left hand side and effectively plays as a left winger at times when going forward. And it is this attacking intent that allows Aubameyang to come inside to join the attack from a more central position with either Lacazette or Nketiah, which offers the gunners more goal threat.
Attack vs Defence
Statistically, his goal invovlement doesn't look too different from an attacking perspective regardless of his position, with Saka registering 2 goals and 5 assists from left wing in 15 games and 1 goal and 4 assists in 15 games at left back. If he can create chances and even chip in with the odd goal from defence, then deploying him at left back would add an extra component and added creativity to Arsenal's attack.
He was prolific at youth level for Arsenal, registering 16 goals in 25 games for the Arsenal U18s, so although Arsenal fans may see him as more of a creator, he does have a natural eye for goal, something I'm sure he would love to add to his game for the senior side.
But, there are questions marks over his defensive side of the game, which are understandable, but he has met the task well so far. And with the modern full back having a lot more of an emphasis on attack than defence, particularly in possession-based teams, this may not be too much of an issue.
Old School Winger, Modern Full Back
Both the full back and the winger have been reinvented over the last 10-15 years. The full back was previously being known for being solid defensively, but rarely adventurous (Tony Hibbert comes to mind!). This has changed, particularly in attacking, possession-based teams, where the full backs bomb forward and create chances for the attackers.
Pep Guardiola uses a style of this where he would overload one side of the pitch with the other full back, usually Kyle Walker, coming inside to add an extra body in the middle. This is something Arteta has started to use at Arsenal, with the left back being the predominantly attacking full back, while the right back sits into the middle more often.
So Saka would be the 'modern' full back or Arsenal and he has all the credentials for it. He's pacy, tricky (his nutmeg on Lazaro was glorious!), has great delivery, he takes on his man, and defensively does enough to get by without being sensational. He has all the attributes of a modern day full back.
But these attributes are also ones akin to wingers. However goal scoring prowess is potentially the most important trait of the modern winger, something we haven't yet witnessed of Saka at senior level. Previously we saw plenty of attacking wide players play on whichever side their strong foot was on, but now the trend is to play wingers on the opposite side, so they can cut in and score. This is an asset that has been valuable to Liverpool's title push this season with Salah and Mane accumulating a vast proportion of their goals. It's something that has been valuable to Arsenal too with Aubameyang clearly being our top scorer whilst playing plenty of games on the left wing as a right footed player. If Saka were to play there then we would have less goal threat from that position and it would mean losing a major part of our attacking threat from that side.
Maybe 15-20 years ago Saka would've been an obvious choice for a winger, but this era of football suggests full back may be more suited.
Saka would most likely desire to play as a winger long term, which may play a big role in his contract negotiations, but as he fits in so well with Arteta's philosophy when playing at full back, I suspect Arteta will see that as his position going forward. And as we've seen with Trent Alexander-Arnold, he may well be able to influence and dominate matches from a full back position more than if he was playing further forward.
His most natural position is, of course, left wing, but with Kolasinac's inconsistent form and Tierney's persistent injury problems, Saka's best position for Arteta's Arsenal is at left back in the starting 11.