“Sometimes I need a bit more protection when players are purposely trying to kick me. That’s all I was letting him know.”
In the aftermath of Arsenal’s 1-0 win at Aston Villa last month, Bukayo Saka felt compelled to speak to referee Andy Madley about the three fouls against him.
His comments sparked a backlash from Villan’s boss Steven Gerrard, who was weirdly keen to point out that he owns a metal hip after a career in Liverpool’s midfield, and in the weeks since, it’s been business as usual for rival teams, who’ve continued to kick lumps out of our winger.
Brighton were the latest to single Saka out for rough-and-ready treatment and Arteta believes his young charge is the victim of his own talent.
“He’s a great kid, and he has a really clear idea of what he needs to expect,” said the Spaniard ahead of Saturday’s trip to Southampton.
“The better he does the more difficult they are going to try and make it for him, that’s for sure.”
He continued: “The best players and the talented players are always going to be closely looked at and they are going to close the space and they are going to be tight on them.
“Bukayo has to recognise that is going to be the case. Referees have to recognise that as well, early in the game, and then try to protect them.”
“I think he needs the protection that all the players need at this level, nothing different, nothing special.”
Asked about teams avoiding bookings by employing rotational fouling, where players take it in turns to target the same opponent, Arteta went on: “That again is the referee’s decision to judge that.
“I am sure that they are on top of that, they recognise the patterns on the play that is being targeted and they will try to protect him when they can.”