LONDON: Mikel Arteta has backed Bukayo Saka to cope with the rough treatment meted out by opponents but says the Arsenal winger can also learn ways to cope better with being targeted.
The 21-year-old England international has been under the spotlight in recent weeks over a perceived lack of protection from officials and was on the end of some robust challenges in last week’s 4-2 win against Aston Villa.
Shortly before half-time his frustration boiled over after he was fouled by Philippe Coutinho and he shoved the Brazilian in the chest.
Arsenal boss Arteta admitted after the win at Villa Park that opposition teams set out to stop his star man, who leads Arsenal in goals and assists.
Despite the crunching tackles, Saka has not missed any of Arsenal’s past 65 league games, the longest run in the division, as the league leaders prepare to travel to Leicester on Saturday.
“There is a lot of focus now on Bukayo, and we need to keep that in mind as a team with the plans that we put together, understanding what the opponents are doing, but for sure referees have their responsibilities and they have to do their jobs,“ Arteta said on Friday.
“If you ask him how it used to be when he was 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 — it isn’t very different. Wingers and talented players get kicked and fouled and get the demand to win games and that is the chance he has, that is his role in the team.
“But we have to train that and he needs to learn when to take certain balls, what to do with that ball, how to use his body, when to jump.”
Reports suggest Saka is close to signing a new, long-term deal at the Emirates Stadium but Arteta was tight-lipped when questioned on the issue.
“We want to keep our best players, the players that we are developing,“ he said. “We want to create a long-term project here and we need our best players at the club.
“When it’s done, I can tell you more. But obviously we have the intention to extend the contracts of our players.”
Arsenal are hoping to have Thomas Partey fit and available for the trip to the King Power Stadium, but Gabriel Jesus is still recovering from a knee injury.
Arteta, whose side are two points clear of second-placed Manchester City with a game in hand, denied it was a two-horse race for the Premier League title, with a revitalised Manchester United also within striking distance.
“I think there are more teams involved and every day is going to be a race,“ he said.
“Today it’s how we convince those players to train better, to play better against Leicester. We’re going to have to be really good to beat them, especially with the way they’ve been playing in the last few weeks.” – AFP