Bukayo Saka’s run of 87 consecutive Premier League starts for Arsenal could end on Sunday, with a leg injury picked up in the Gunners’ 2-1 Champions League defeat at Lens making him a doubt for his side’s huge Premier League showdown with league leaders Manchester City – live on Sky Sports.
One of Arsenal supporters’ worst fears came to pass when Saka limped off holding his leg in France on Tuesday night.
Gunners boss Mikel Arteta claimed injury “doesn’t look good” and that it was “a worry” with City the visitors to the Emirates Stadium on Super Sunday.
The England international’s fitness will now be a key focus ahead of the game between the two sides who fought it out for the Premier League title last season, and if the 22-year-old is ruled out, attention will turn to who could replace him against Pep Guardiola’s side.
Saka’s injury adds to Arteta’s problems with winger Gabriel Martinelli also sidelined with a hamstring injury, meaning the Gunners could be without both wingers who were key to their superb form last season.
Here, Sky Sports’ takes a look at Arteta’s options to replace Saka and play on the wings against Man City…
Who could replace Saka?
Vieira has been the player who tasked with coming on for Saka in the games against Lens and Bournemouth.
After a difficult first season in England, the Portuguese star has started the season brightly but he is not your typical winger.
A much more technical option in the mould of Man City’s Bernardo Silva, the 23-year-old’s best performances have come on the left of Arsenal’s midfield three, but as a left-footed player he provides the inverted option that Saka provides so expertly for Arteta.
The Brazilian striker showed in glimpses what a handful he can be when played in his preferred position through the middle.
However, needs must for the moment for Arteta with both Saka and Martinelli doubts for the game against City.
Jesus replaced the injured Martinelli on the left flank against Tottenham with Eddie Nketiah playing as the striker. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see that option deployed again with Leandro Trossard moving to the right flank or Kai Havertz being used as the central striker.
With Arsenal’s injury problems, the former Brighton star is a key figure for Arteta at the moment and will surely start against Man City.
But in which position will he be used?
Happy anywhere across the front three, Trossard has been mainly used on the left and started in recent weeks in the absence of Martinelli.
However, with the Gunners’ forward line set for some changes, the 28-year-old, who has scored three goals in all competitions for his club so far this season, could move over to the right flank.
The 23-year-old will be another player putting his hand up for the chance to impress from the start.
He has had a number of cameos off the bench but when handed a start, he did get the goal to seal Arsenal’s Carabao Cup win at Brentford.
Again, Nelson is another player that has seen his chances come on the left wing. It could be that is where he would play again, freeing up another option to replace Saka, but he is also familiar with the role on the right.
Emile Smith Rowe
Is it time for Smith Rowe to get his chance?
His injury issues look to be behind him and after impressing in England’s U21 Euros win, Arsenal fans have been wanting to see him given a run back in the side.
So far, Arteta has resisted but with his resources stretched, it might be time to give Smith Rowe, who was a regular in the side early in the Arsenal manager’s reign, a chance to shine again.
Charles Sagoe Jr
Gunners Academy prospect Sagoe Jr was the surprise selection as he made his full Arsenal debut at Brentford in in the Carabao Cup last week.
The 19-year-old deputised for Saka in Arsenal’s 1-0 win at the Gtech Community Stadium and he was praised by Arteta, who said: “Chaz was probably one of the most consistent players we’ve had in the U23s for a few months. He’s been training with us quite a lot and it’s about giving opportunities to people and if we don’t give it today, when are we going to give opportunities to our youngsters? I’m really happy that he had a good experience.”
A crunch Premier League showdown with Man City may be a step too far for the young winger. However, with Arsenal’s resources in wide areas stretched, don’t be surprised to see his name among the replacements.
What’s Arteta said
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta speaking after Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat at Lens:
“It doesn’t look good.”
Arteta added: “He tried to backheel a ball in the first half. He felt something. It was muscular. He was uncomfortable and we had to take him off.
“We don’t know anything more than that. It was big enough not to allow him to play the rest of the game and that is a worry for us.”
When asked Saka would be available to face City, Arteta replied: “I haven’t a clue. I don’t know”.
Why Saka is so important to Arsenal
Sky Sports’ Sam Blitz:
Almost everyone else can be replaced: Arsenal cannot afford to lose Bukayo Saka to injury.
Exactly why the England winger is so indispensable to Arsenal was seen in their defeat at Lens. As soon as Saka came off, the Gunners had a flat tyre.
Saka is the player with the most one-on-ones in the Premier League this season – he relentlessly explores those individual duels with the full-back, and averages 14 per Premier League game.
But on Tuesday night, his replacement, Fabio Vieira, attempted to get around his man only once.
It is the same on the other side: Gabriel Martinelli has similar numbers to Saka. Leandro Trossard is an adequate replacement for the Brazilian, but Sunday’s visit of Manchester City demands more than adequate.
Mikel Arteta knows it too. “The two wingers that we are missing, they give us a lot of threat,” he said after the defeat to Lens. “And it’s different to other qualities we have in the squad.”
It feels that Arsenal’s hopes of beating Man City on Sunday could be determined by the team news…
Could Saka’s injury have been avoided?
Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
However, many with an Arsenal affiliation were calling for Saka to be taken out of the firing line for the trip to Lens after receiving some heavy challenges in the north London derby and taking a “heavy knock” against Bournemouth last weekend.
The England star, who does have to ride his fair share of physical challenges, limped from the field in both games, putting his participation against Lens in doubt, but he recovered to take a full part in training on Monday ahead of the game in France.
While many saw it as an unnecessary risk to play Saka, Arteta saw things differently.
When asked if he had any regrets in picking Saka against Lens, Arteta said: “No. It was a knock that he had the other day and he was perfectly fine. It was a backheel, an action that can produce that kind of injury. Let’s see what the extent of it is and afterwards it’s too late.
“The last few were more knocks than anything else. He hasn’t really missed games. We gave him a break against Brentford last week and that was all.
“He was really looking forward to playing like every player. It was a big Champions League night.”
As previously mentioned, Saka is the player it feels like Arteta cannot do without. That’s been shown by the number of games he starts for the Spanish manager. However, a point is coming where Arteta is going to have to rethink Saka’s minutes and they will have to be managed more carefully than they have been in recent weeks.
Arsenal could now be without Saka substantial period of time, something that may well have been avoided with a bit more rest and rotation.
October 8: Manchester City (H) – Premier League, kick-off 4.30pm, live on Sky Sports
October 21: Chelsea (A) – Premier League, kick-off 5.30pm, live on Sky Sports
October 24: Sevilla (A) – Champions League group stage, kick-off 8pm
October 28: Sheffield United (H) – Premier League, kick-off 3pm
November 1: West Ham (A) – Carabao Cup fourth round, kick-off 7.30pm
November 4: Newcastle (A) – Premier League, kick-off 5.30pm, live on Sky Sports
Watch Arsenal vs Man City live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4pm on Super Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm.
Pick your Arsenal XI without Saka and Martinelli
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