Mikel Arteta praised the leadership qualities of Bukayo Saka after the 19-year-old shone in Arsenal’s comeback win at Southampton.
The Gunners fell behind to an early Stuart Armstrong strike, but rallied to lead at the interval courtesy of Nicolas Pepe and Saka, with the England international then teeing up Alexandre Lacazette to complete the 3-1 victory.
Saka’s goal was his fifth in the Premier League this season – more than all other teenagers in the division combined.
He has been impressive in recent weeks and has taken on a pivotal role in the Arsenal attack, having previously moved across the pitch to cover several different positions.
But it is also his ability to drive the team forward which has left a mark on Arteta, who admits such a status is not usually seen in someone so young.
“He’s got that,” he replied when asked about Saka being a leader on the pitch.
“He’s really humble, really respectful, but at the same time he’s got that character within him and on the pitch he can demand the ball.
“He can make actions and decisions that is not very usual at his age.
“That’s something that is great because we need that leadership and he’s gaining that with his performances and attitude around the team.”
Arteta previously worked with Raheem Sterling at Manchester City and saw the forward flourish after adding goals to his all-round game – something Saka is now replicating.
“Bukayo is doing really well and is always asking to train more and improve in areas that he can do better,” added the Spaniard.
“That (scoring) was certainly one, at producing the final bit in the box to score or assist, and he’s doing that much more often.
“He’s able to do that with the work he has put in and the intelligence he’s shown on the pitch, and with the capacity he has to understand the game from different positions he becomes a really complete player.”
Saka himself insists just living out his dream of playing for Arsenal is enough to give him the desire to play well and win.
“I’m just happy to be playing for Arsenal,” he told the club’s official website.
— Bukayo Saka (@BukayoSaka87) January 26, 2021
“It’s a dream so I just have the passion when I get on the pitch. The boss makes everything clear for me and at the same time gives me the freedom to go and do what I want to do in the final third.”
Southampton, having beaten Arsenal just three days earlier in the FA Cup fourth round, have now won just one of their last seven league outings.
Yan Valery came into the side to replace the injured Kyle Walker-Peters on Tuesday night and says lessons must be taken from the latest setback ahead of Saturday’s visit of Aston Villa.
“We started the game right and scored the first goal, but after that we made a few mistakes and I think all the goals came from our mistakes,” he said.
“Now we need to just learn from it and move on. In the second half we started good as well, but, when they scored the third one, we just gave up.
“We need to be ready for Saturday and go again. We have done everything right in the first half of the season, so I don’t know why it wouldn’t happen again in the second half.”