Bukayo Saka says Arsenal fans don’t have to worry about the rough treatment he receives from opponents, highlighting the fact he’s been able to play in every Premier League game this season.
The England international gets kicked a lot when he plays and there’s been regular discourse about whether he needs to be more protected by the officials.
Back in February, club legend Ian Wright voiced his concern, saying: “We have seen recently how much attention he gets from defenders because they know how much of a threat he is. But he keeps going. It’s a worry.
“It’s obvious that people are targeting him. I don’t hear him say anything. I don’t think he will ever do something like that, it’s for others to say that and the referees to see it. But he will just keep going.”
After Saka signed a new long-term contract at Arsenal, Wright again expressed his fears for the 21-year-old in a chat at Emirates Stadium.
“I didn’t know everyone was worried,” replied Saka.
“Listen, I’m fine. I don’t really think you need to worry about me. I have everything in place to be healthy, be on the pitch week in, week out. And yeah, I’ve been able to play every game this season.
“So, you know, despite all the games and the tackles and so on so forth so yeah I think I’m fine.”
For his part, manager Mikel Arteta has said it’s Arsenal’s job to better prepare the winger for physical treatment, seemingly wary of the player getting it in his head that he’s unfairly treated.
Should he feature against Wolves, Bukayo Saka will become the first player to not miss a single game in back-to-back league campaigns for #Arsenal since David Seaman (1990-91 & 1991-92) and the first outfield player to do so for the club since Lee Dixon (1989-90 & 1990-91).
— Harvey Downes (@HarveyDownes92) May 23, 2023
According to Opta, if Saka plays in the final game of the season against Wolves on Sunday, he’ll become the first Arsenal outfield player since Lee Dixon (1988-89 & 89/90) to feature in every game for two seasons running.
It’s quite the stat and one that underlines the hard work put in by both player and the club.
Speaking to Arsenal.com this week, the club’s head of sports medicine and performance, Gary O’Driscoll, shed light on Saka’s dedication to the fitness programmes prepared for him.
“Learning from the development of other young players who have progressed to the first team, and under the careful guidance of the strength and conditioning staff and the physiotherapists, Bukayo has gradually increased his physicality and conditioning. He’s learned to cope with the ever-increasing demands,” said O’Driscoll.
He added: “Bukayo certainly wasn’t bigger, stronger, or more powerful than any other player when he came into the first team environment and it is not as if we have turned him into a machine. He’s a physiologically gifted athlete with outstanding professionalism and approach to his preparation.
“If you look at the stats, I think he’s one of the most fouled players in the Premier League, but what’s for sure is that he has adapted his physique to be able to cope with that.
“Apart from his physical development, Bukayo has the most remarkable capacity, mentally, to take on what we’re asking him to do. If we ask him to improve his lifting, to add some strength or improve his core – he just does it! Not every player is able to do that, as much as they might try.
“If I could design a perfect Premier League player, Bukayo is very close to it. For his professionalism and mental approach to the game and his ability to take on physical, technical and psychological messages.”
That’s high praise from a man who has worked with some of the best players in Arsenal’s modern history.