I can’t complain about being fouled

Bukayo Saka has gotten his kicks while being kicked this season. The 21-year-old continues a meteoric rise for Arsenal and England by becoming a key player in an unlikely Premier League title fight that shows no signs of abating in mid-March.

Saka has 19 goal contributions in the league so far, a tally of 10 goals and nine assists, surpassed only by centre-forwards Erling Haaland (33) and Harry Kane (22) as the Ealing-born star has helped the Gunners with to hold a five-point lead over Manchester City with a relentless mix of creativity and a thirst for battle.

He was presented with the Young Player of the Year award at the London Football Awards at the Roundhouse in Camden on Monday, but it’s not the first time he’s been recognized for his individual focus.

Opponents have tried various scuffle tactics against Saka, even the craftsmen of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, who tried to nix the winger with a series of tackles last month that belatedly earned makeshift full-back Bernardo Silva a yellow card.

In a rare fit of anger, Saka reacted angrily to similar treatment in their next game at Aston Villa, after which manager Mikel Arteta revealed Arsenal were investigating if there was evidence he had been targeted in recent weeks.

Saka is the eighth most fouled player in the Premier League with 45 free-kicks missed in his favour, well behind Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha at 64. It’s the ones who have gone unpunished, causing some dismay for some at the Emirates Stadium.

Sources have told ESPN that, as is the case with many clubs, the Gunners have been in regular dialogue with refereeing body Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) after most games this season and the issue has been raised in those discussions.

But, as is typical of a youngster who’s put up with everything that comes with stratospheric ascension, Saka makes no fuss.

“I can’t come out here and complain about being fouled,” Saka told ESPN. “It doesn’t make sense, I’m not going to achieve anything with it.

“Arsenal have had the necessary meetings with the referees and things like that. I think we just have to go from there and see where that takes us. The way I play, I’ll always be in touch. It’s a problem, like many [fouls].”

Some might take it as a sign that he’s shaping up to be a real game changer. “I would prefer other compliments,” he said with a smile.

Saka’s serenity comes in part from his upbringing, born to Nigerian parents Adenike and Yomi, as well as his faith. He reads the Bible every night and during Monday’s awards ceremony, which raises funds for Willow – a charity that provides special experiences for terminally ill 16-40 year olds in the UK, Saka takes plenty of time, posing for selfies and Sign autographs on both sides of the discussion about his game.

“I’m just trying to be as professional as possible, take care of me,” he said. “Eat the best, sleep as much as I can. When I’m in training, study as much as I can and in games I just play 100%. I leave the rest in God’s hands.

“God took care of me. I could have been lucky in some tackles, but I wouldn’t call it lucky. I believe in God and he takes care of me.

“I’ve just been keeping fit and I’m hoping to continue giving my best for Arsenal on the pitch so we can have some luck at the end of the season.”

As is typical of Arteta, he instructed Saka to focus on what he can control. The Spaniard believes Arsenal should be able to change how they use the ball to reduce the risk of Saka being unfairly challenged.

“I think he’s talking about the kind of balls I get,” Saka explained. “For example, as a winger, if you get the ball on the touchline with your back to the defender, I would do the same thing, even if I’m the defender: get in straight and fast, you close.

“Of course there will be a lot of pressure and a lot of contact. I think he’s talking about that kind of ball, the kind of ball where I don’t have a lot of room to maneuver and the defender can close me fast and be really aggressive.

“People will know me better now, I’ve been playing more and more football, also more and more at the higher levels, so they will know more what my game is about. So they’re going to make plans to stop me, of course, and berate me and stuff.

“It’s normal for most wingers. The same thing happens to most other wingers on our team when they play. I just have to keep adapting, keep adapting, learn how to play one-on-one, two-on-one, three-on-one. one, whatever it is. Just keep evolving. That’s the beauty of the game. There will always be something different each week. It’s all about me trying to break it down and ultimately winning the game.

Saka’s defiance typifies the determination that has seen him help lead a title shot from Arsenal academy at Hale End in just four years.

And a lot is asked of him. Saka has accumulated 2,320 minutes in all 27 league games this season, a number surpassed by only 11 outfield players in the league as a whole.

Despite an impressive individual record, Saka insists he is yet to reach the stipulated tally of goals and assists he aimed for in August – figures he continues to keep secret – but a continuation of his current form would certainly do the trick make a matter time. Eleven Premier League games lie in wait, plus a Europa League round of 16 second leg against Sporting CP on Thursday, the same day Saka is sure to be included in Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad for games against Italy and Ukraine will later this month.

Football never stops. When asked if he feels fresh, Saka settles into his seat and gauges his reaction.

“I would say mentally I’m just happy to be on the pitch,” he said. “If I put it this way: I’d rather be injured or on the pitch, I want to be on the pitch. If I’m asking myself where I wanted to be when I was younger and it was playing on the pitch for Arsenal who compete at the highest level every week, I would take it.

“Well I’m happy. I just want to keep pushing until the end of the season and then in the summer I can lock myself in my room and sleep the rest of the summer.”

https://www.espn.com/soccer/arsenal-engarsenal/story/4900513/bukayo-saka-interview-arsenal-star-i-cant-complain-that-im-fouled I can’t complain about being fouled


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