Mikel Arteta has backed Bukayo Saka to handle the pressure this season, following on from his behaviour and performances over the past year which have earned the 19-year old ‘respect and admiration’ from Arsenal and England fans.
Saka did himself immensely proud during the 2020/21 campaign, earning the Gunners’ player of the season award and breaking into Gareth Southgate’s starting XI at Euro 2020.
The 19-year old performed admirably throughout the tournament but, after missing England’s final spot kick in their penalty shootout loss to Italy in the final, suffered racist abuse online. After coming out with his head held high claiming ‘love always wins’, Arteta said the teenager earned a bigger trophy than the European Championships.
“Obviously he had some tough days after what happened in the final but I think you have to look at the whole picture,” Arteta said, quoted by The Mirror. “This kid, at 19 years old, has played almost every game in the Premier League. He was our Player of the Season, I think he has earned the respect and admiration of everyone at the football club.
“But not only that, he’s gone to an international stage, he started the European competition with an injury and still he has managed to be in the starting XI,” he continued. “He reached the final and he couldn’t lift that trophy but I think he has a much bigger trophy than that, and that’s that now he really knows that in good and bad moments, everybody at the club, every Arsenal fan and every English fan is right behind him.
“He has earned that with his behaviour, his talent and with the way he is. That’s going to be there for the rest of his life. A trophy is there in the wardrobe and then you have to be the man in the next one. But what he has achieved and how he has united people is very powerful and he should be really, really proud of that.”
Arteta has tasked Saka to be ‘the man’ next term, as Arsenal look to vastly improve on an underwhelming campaign last time out. The Gunners finished the Premier League campaign in eighth place, missing out on European football altogether.
“The maturity that he has shown at his age is pretty special, I have not seen many of those – and now he is going to have to cope with other things over the next year, it is going to be about expectations,” Arteta said.
“Can he do it again? Can he raise his game again, can he improve, can he keep making better decision, be more consistent, start to win more regularly? That is the thing that he needs to do that at this very early stage in his career.”