Mikel Arteta has revealed that the different positions he has asked Bukayo Saka to play were a test in the youngster’s evolution at Arsenal.
It’s a test in which the London-born star has passed with flying colours. Since his breakthrough campaign last season, Saka has played in a number of different positions from left-back to right wing. His form throughout that time has been one of the shining lights at The Emirates. So much so that England honours have followed and the 19-year-old will be looking to add to his four senior caps at the Euros this summer.
Saka has also played in central midfield and Gunners boss Arteta has paid tribute to the youngster’s “intelligence”.
Seven goals and seven assists have placed Saka as a contender, with Phil Foden, for the PFA Young Player of the Year award. Foden seems destined to get the nod, but Saka, whom Arteta says has been difficult to work out, will not be far behind.
And it turns out the chopping and changing from the Arsenal boss has been aimed at developing Saka.
“Intelligence,” Arteta told Sky Sports when asked about Saka’s top qualities.
“We talk about physicality, we talk about spirit, we talk about technique. But the brain is the one that makes all the decisions.
“‘B’ makes a lot of good decisions because he is such an intelligent player who can read situations. After that, of course, he has the ability to execute them the right way and that’s obviously a big quality.
“It took me a while to figure him out. That’s why I tried to play him in different positions, to see how he reacted.
“I wanted to test his character as well because he was playing as a left-back and I know it wasn’t his ideal position but he had to go through that period.
“We’ve seen how he can affect the game more and be a real threat. He has the quality to decide a football match.
“When you have that, you need to try to get the right position for him to be decisive as much as possible because then the team will be closer to winning more football matches.”
Arteta also explained his thinking behind Gabriel Martinelli’s inaction.
The 19-year-old’s absence has baffled some fans and pundits, but the Spaniard says he needs time.
“Martinelli came back in and he had an impact but there were still a lot of things that we had to work on with him,” said Arteta.
“He needs time. He is so willing and so anxious that it can block his development sometimes as well.
“Sometimes he won’t understand my decisions but the only reason I make those decisions is to help him, so that when he gets the chance to sprint, he can sprint, and when he falls, he goes again.
“I want a long run with him, not just a short one, and he’s in a better place now.”