Arsenal legend Freddie Ljungberg spotted Bukayo Saka’s potential to play at left-back

Bukayo Saka has made a major first team breakthrough at Arsenal this season
Bukayo Saka has made a major first team breakthrough at Arsenal this season (Picture: Getty)

Mikel Arteta is reaping the rewards of Bukayo Saka’s outstanding form, but it was his assistant Freddie Ljungberg who first spotted the teenager’s potential to play at left-back.

The 18-year-old produced another outstanding display on Sunday as Arsenal came from behind to record their third successive victory, beating Everton 3-2 at the Emirates.

A pinpoint Saka delivery helped Eddie Nketiah score his first Premier League goal on home soil, a cross which represented the versatile youngster’s 10th assist of the season in all competitions.

Saka’s progress has been made all the more remarkable given he has been tasked with filling in for injured duo Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac in defence, having made his name in Arsenal’s youth ranks as a skillful winger.

Ljungberg surprisingly deployed Saka at left-back for the final match of his interim tenure at Everton in December and the England Under-19 international has featured regularly in the position ever since, but it transpires that move was a calculated gamble by the Swede, rather than a decision he was forced into.

‘There was always this power and speed when he was a winger and Freddie was the one behind the change,’ former Arsenal academy director Andries Jonker told The Times. Freddie had big confidence in Bukayo.’

‘There were a lot of rumours, the biggest clubs being very, very interested in Bukayo,’ Jonker added. ‘We were convinced that he should get a scholarship and a professional contract afterwards.

‘At that time, he was a left winger and he was quite big for his age. He was a tall, strong 13-year-old boy when I first saw him. Faster and stronger than the others.

‘The question was: is he this good because of his physical power or is he this good because he can really play?’

Despite having made such rapid progress, Saka, who has 18 months remaining on his current contract, has not hidden his desire to return to his favourite position on the wing.

‘I’m really enjoying my football under the new manager,’ he said earlier this month following another standout performance against Newcastle. ‘It’s not my natural position but he’s given me all the advice I need.

‘I’ve got Granit (Xhaka) behind, 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 feel like 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.’

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