Football Features

Bukayo Saka closes in on European elite to help Arsenal take full control of Premier League’s top four race

By Harry Edwards

Published: 15:01, 19 March 2022

Bukayo Saka cemented his place as one of the Premier League’s best young attacking players with the only goal to help Arsenal beat Aston Villa on Saturday.

A depleted weekend in the Premier League due to the FA Cup quarter-finals, Arsenal went to Villa Park knowing they could tighten their grip on fourth place while still having a game in hand on the teams below them.

While the scoreline portrays a close match, Arsenal appeared in full control of the game and Saka’s first-half strike was the least that their dominance deserved. Lurking around the edge of the box after a cross was half-cleared, Saka hit a first-time effort on the bounce through the crowd and passed Emiliano Martinez.

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It was Saka’s 10th goal across all competitions this season, nine of which have come in the Premier League – a number that puts him at the top among the division’s younger players. Of players aged 21 or under, no player has scored more goals in the Premier League this season than Saka.

The Englishman is level on nine goals with Arsenal teammate and compatriot Emile Smith Rowe, two clear of third-placed Phil Foden. When you include his five assists, Saka has been directly involved in more goals than any other U21 Premier League player.

It’s just as impressive, perhaps even more so, when stretching it across Europe’s top five leagues, as only Erling Haaland (16) and Vinicius Jr (14) have score more league goals among U21 players than Saka. Fine company to be in and perhaps that’s why Villa targeted the 20-year-old with hard tackles.

“I wasn’t complaining, but I wanted to let him know that is my game,” Saka told BT Sport on talking to the referee at half-time.

“I’m going to run at players. Sometimes I need a bit more protection when the opposition is trying to kick me.”

He later added to Match of the Day: “My ankle is a bit bloody, but I’ll be going again in the next game. It’s part of my game, so I’ll be doing it again next time.”

Saka’s strike was also the sixth goal he has been directly involved in his past five Premier League matches. The run started with a goal against Leeds and then two vs Norwich; Wolves then managed to keep the Englishman quiet but a goal and an assist followed vs Watford before Saturday’s match-winner at Villa Park.

Arsenal are now four points clear of fifth-placed Manchester United with one game on hand on the Red Devils and go into the international break in a good position.

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