THERE has been a huge amount of revisionist hindsight among the Arsenal fanbase this week after Bukayo Saka’s stunning performance at left-back against West Brom.
Suddenly, everybody had always wanted the young England international to play there in Kieran Tierney’s injury absence and had Mikel Arteta done so the previous Thursday, Arsenal might still be in the Europa League.
Which is slightly odd, as whilst some agreed when I suggested this tactical move throughout April, far more were set against it.
The common reaction seemed to be that I was mad to want our best attacking player consigned to the defence, and that Arteta should play Cedric there.
In all honesty, I was never suggesting that Arteta should look to permanently switch Saka to left-back, but in the short-term he should do so.
Not only for the balance of the team, to allow Granit Xhaka back into central midfield, but also to allow him to play three of Gabriel Martinelli, Emile Smith Rowe, Nicolas Pepe and Martin Odegaard behind the striker.
The point I felt many were either missing or forgetting was that Tierney, in that very role, had been integral to our best attacking displays during the season.
A glance at any heat map for the young Scot would illustrate just how much he had been advanced and thus proved that playing Saka there would not have limited his creative attacking threat.
Sadly, the debate for Arsenal is now irrelevant as we are out of Europe, limping to the conclusion of a disappointing Premier League campaign, with only a stressful summer of transfer rumour and angst to look forward to.
However, I am an Arsenal fan, who also loves England, and wants our players to wear the Three Lions.
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I am aware not all my peers will share this view and would sooner see Saka well rested after a season where he has played far more football than anyone expected.
With my England hat on, as we are fast approaching the time for Gareth Southgate to announce his squad, I truly believe, with or without my red-tinted spectacles that Arsenal’s player of the season should be firmly in the mix.
The left-back cameo will have enhanced, rather than hindered, his chances.
Arsenal fans, myself included want to see Saka on the flank damaging the opposition but I think even the most ardent Gunner might have to accept as an outright wide attacker the competition for our young talisman is fierce.
Southgate has the likes of Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish and even a revitalised Jesse Lingard perhaps to consider.
As we know, he has utilised Saka at left-back and left wing-back in the past and the fact he obviously wants to be able to switch tactically between a back four and back three must work in our player’s favour.
England managers over time have always valued top-quality utility players who can comfortably operate at the highest level in more than one position.
The likes of Steve Hodge, James Milner, Terry Fenwick, Owen Hargreaves have all proved invaluable on the big stage and let us not forget that Southgate deployed a right-footed Ashley Young at left wing-back in the last World Cup.
Without Saka in the recent matches the England boss had a good look at Ben Chilwell and Luke Shaw, but I believe the Arsenal youngster has advantages over both.
Chilwell, who I admire, is not being consistently selected over Marcos Alonso for Chelsea who operate with a back three and Luke Shaw, whilst having a superb season, has rarely played as a wing-back with Manchester United using him in a back four.
Saka offers Southgate the ability to cover both roles with equal aplomb, perhaps more consistency in attacking threat and the trump card that he can move roles on the pitch.
Whist Saka may not be a guaranteed starter by any means, with the ability to select 26 players to include him seems, as they say, a ‘no brainer’.
Southgate may well have a better left winger, right winger, left-back and left wing-back, but he certainly does not have anyone who can slot in from the start or during a match – or indeed play more than one role within 90 minutes.
For Saka, I sincerely hope he is rewarded with selection for the Euros, because whilst so many of his senior Arsenal colleagues have let him down,he has never let himself, his team-mates or his supporters down.
Bukayo, I salute you and hope to see you pull on that Three Lions shirt come June.
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