Saka celebrating his third goal against North Macedonia
Bukayo Saka's hat-trick against North Macedonia last week – the first of his senior career – might have come as a surprise to many, but to us Arsenal fans who have watched him play all season, Saka's brilliance is as unsurprising as things going wrong with the Titan mission.
Now valued at a whopping €120m, the 21-year-old has undergone a meteoric rise from a baby-faced Hale End graduate to a legitimately world-class winger who will play a crucial role in England's success over the next several years. Saka may be loved by nearly all soccer fans for his kindheartedness, humility, and affable smile, but far fewer fans understand what exactly makes "Little Chilli" so good.
There's no player in the world who is pound-for-pound stronger than Bukayo Saka. I'm not talking about brute-force, bodybuilder type strength – which is obviously not the case when looking at Saka's unassuming frame – but rather the hyperspecific soccer strength that can only be learned from a young age. You know: the kind of strength that emanates from a low center of gravity and makes it impossible to shrug a player off a ball, à la Lionel Messi.
Just watch this video to get an idea of what I'm talking about.
Saka uses his body to shield the ball from defenders better than any player I've ever seen; I can count on one hand the number of times I remember him giving away possession for Arsenal last season. 💪
He even bodied Declan Rice.
This feels like a cookie-cutter answer for "why so-and-so is underrated," but with Saka, there's one thing he does exceptionally well: exploit defenders' blind spots.
After Saka passes the ball to a teammate from the right wing, he will usually drift centrally into the box. While most players would immediately look to exploit space here, Saka rather tends to stick on the shoulder of a defender and waits patiently to make a move. Anticipating the ball's arrival in a dangerous area, Saka makes his move as soon as the defender turns his head.
This goal against Crystal Palace is a perfect example.
By hanging on his defender's backside and not immediately exploiting empty space – which would cause other defenders to pick him up – Saka allows the space to open up around him, giving the defense a false sense of security until the moment he pounces. By then it's far too late. Genius. 🧠
Imaging being a Premier League left-back. One week, you'll be playing Man United and marking Antony as he dallies on the ball like a stubborn Golden Retriever.
The next, you'll face Arsenal, where you'll be tasked with marking Bukayo Saka as he comes at you again, and again, and again. Who would you rather face?
Saka is by no means a flashy player, but what he lacks in favela-borne flicks and tricks, he more than makes up for with a simple, relentless dribbling style that leaves defenders kicking the air (or Saka's shins). Saka's best quality is perhaps his speed of thought, which is remarkable at his age. There's no second-guessing or unnecessary moving backwards with Saka; He's full steam ahead, all the time.