Mikel Arteta says Bukayo Saka is in the best form of his fledgeling career and is proving so important to Arsenal that it’s making it difficult to rest him.
On a frustrating night for the Gunners, the 19-year-old produced another menacing performance on the right wing eventually scoring the goal that earned a 1-1 draw against Benfica in the first leg of the Europa League last-32 tie.
“I think he’s in a great moment,” said the boss when asked about the teenager’s importance. “He’s full of confidence. He’s been really important in recent results. His form is the highest that it’s been since I’ve been here and he’s been really consistent.
“He needs to keep going and doing what he’s doing because at the moment he’s a big part of the team.”
Having played 2317 minutes across 29 appearances already, there have been some concerns that Saka’s young body might not be able to cope with the constant rigours of first team football.
While Arteta acknowledges the need to manage the Academy graduates minutes, he admits it’s hard finding the balance when he keeps producing such consistently high performances.
“I think we have to protect him and keep the expectations where they should be. But I’m not going to put a break in his development or how much he can do week in, week out.
“We have to support him, give him the best possible advice all the time and then manage his minutes so he can maintain this level.
“It is at the moment [a challenge to manage the minutes] because he’s been a real threat, he’s involved in a lot of goals all the time and the consistency of his performances makes him a starter obviously. It’s a fine balance but at the same time he’s 19 and we have to protect him.”