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Three goals, eight assists and a nutmeg – Sensational Saka’s Arsenal learning curve

The Gunners teenager has teed up his team-mates eight times this season – two more than any other player in the squad

It was a moment that perfectly encapsulated the confidence that is flowing through Bukayo Saka right now.

The 18-year-old looked to have nowhere to go when he received the ball out wide against Newcastle soon after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had given Arsenal the lead on Sunday.

With Nabil Bentaleb and Valentino Lazaro closing him down, a backwards pass looked to be the most likely option.

But the teenager, who has burst onto the scene in such scintillating style this season, had other ideas. One quick nutmeg left Lazaro for dead and before either he or Bentaleb could react, Saka had picked out Nicolas Pepe who had doubled Arsenal’s advantage.

“I was happy for the skill to come off,” said the Gunners’ academy product. “I just had to keep my composure in finding the right players so we could try and score and not getting carried away with the skill.”

Sunday’s game was Saka’s 24th appearance of the season in all competitions.

The winger, who is currently operating as a makeshift left-back, now has eight assists to his name – that’s two more than any other player in the Arsenal squad.

He has also scored three goals himself, with only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Gabriel Martinelli and Nicolas Pepe ahead of him in terms of direct goal competition this season.

So it’s perhaps no surprise to learn that he is loving life right now, with the youngster quick to credit Mikel Arteta for his continued development.

“I’m really enjoying my football under the new manager,” he said.

“It’s an honour to have the most assists in this team because we have some amazing talent and I learn so much from them every day.”

Saka has started Arsenal’s last five games, with each of those appearances coming at left-back due to injuries to Sead Kolasinac and Kieran Tierney.

Kolasinac is now back to full fitness but Arteta kept faith with Saka against Newcastle and it proved to be an inspired decision, with the youngster walking away with the man of the match award.

For Saka, it is all a learning curve and one he sees as a valuable one.

“It’s not my natural position but Mikel has given me all the advice I need,” he said. “I’ve got Granit [Xhaka] behind me, David [Luiz] supporting and speaking to me so it gives me licence to go and express myself in the final third and do what I can do.

“I’ve learned a lot about how wingers in the Premier League play against defenders and how to position myself because in this system it’s different. I get to play much higher because the winger comes inside and I get to go.

“So there’s a lot of space for me and it’s good. I’m playing sort of as a winger when we have the ball but without the ball I have to come back and work on my clearances, my heading and stuff I haven’t worked on my whole life. I feel like I’m doing OK right now.”

So is left-back a role he can see doing long-term?

“No,” he said. “My dream was always to be a winger, to affect games, score goals and get assists. For now I’ll do the job the manager asks me to.”

Given Saka’s performances this season it is no surprise to see top clubs from across Europe linked with harbouring an interest in the winger.

The likes of Manchester United and Manchester City are all said to be watching him closely, as are Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

Saka has 18 months left on his current deal and Arsenal are understandably keen to get him to commit his future to the club for the long-term.

“I just leave all that stuff to my agent and my parents,” he said. “I just enjoy my football and play my football.

“They’re sorting it out. Of course I’m enjoying my football, enjoying playing under the new coach so we’ll see what happens.”

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