Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has joined in in heaping praise on young winger Bukayo Saka, hailing the teenager for blossoming into one of the team’s most important players.
It was Saka who popped up with his side’s equaliser in Thursday’s 1-1 draw with Benfica, taking his tally since the turn of the year to four goals and three assists in ten appearances.
Saka’s good form has seen him rise towards the top of the club’s scoring charts, sitting behind only the duo of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, and Arteta was all too happy to praise the 19-year-old for his continued good form.
“I think he’s in a great moment, he’s full of confidence,” Arteta said (via the club’s official website). “He’s been really important in recent results.
“His form is probably the highest that it’s 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.
“I think we have to protect him and keep the extractions 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. 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 [difficult to rest him] at the moment because he’s been a real threat. He’s involved in a lot of goals all the time and his consistent performances make him a starter obviously. So it’s a fine balance, but at the same time he’s 19 years old and we have to protect him.”
While it was a big game for Saka, it was a frustrating showing from Aubameyang, whose recent resurgence for Arsenal came to an abrupt end with a handful of missed chances against Benfica.
“These things happen,” the boss continued. “He was on the end of the biggest chances we had tonight. He was a real threat and we played against this opponent with a high line they propose all the time, and he was unlucky of course not to score two or three tonight, because in normal circumstances that would be the case.
“I think we had to leave the stadium today with much more than we have right now. Everything is completely open for next Thursday. We have some positives to take from the game because we dominated the game and we had patches of really good moments where we created some big chances. We weren’t ruthless enough in the opponents’ box and the disappointing thing obviously was the way we conceded the goal.”