Bukayo Saka reaches half-century for Arsenal with more goals and assists than Cristiano Ronaldo in first 210 games

February 14, 2024

With his first-half penalty and well-taken second in Sunday's 6-0 win over West Ham, Bukayo Saka became the youngest Arsenal player in the Premier League era to hit the 50-goal mark.

The milestone was reached with another outstanding display from the academy graduate. Not that there was much self-congratulation afterwards. "I'm not sure I can be happy today," he told Sky Sports. "I missed some chances I could have scored."

His comments offered a glimpse into the mentality driving his continued progress at Arsenal. Mikel Arteta, meanwhile, was eager to emphasise the magnitude of what he is achieving at 22.

"At his age, the position and consistency normally don't go in the same line," said the Arsenal manager in his press conference. "He is proving everybody wrong, that he can do it."

His numbers for the season now stand at 13 goals and 12 assists in 31 games in all competitions, a combined total of 25 putting him behind only six players, among them Kylian Mbappe, Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah, across Europe's major leagues.

He is in good company in that list. With the exception of the ludicrous Jude Bellingham, it is worth noting Saka, still six months shy of his 23rd birthday, is the youngest name to feature.

Arteta has faced questions about the risks of overplaying Saka in the last three seasons, a period during which he has only missed one Premier League game. But his record speaks for itself.

In a total of 210 appearances for Arsenal, he has scored 51 goals and provided 49 assists. Remarkably, it is a superior return to Cristiano Ronaldo after the same number of games.

It would be foolish, of course, to assume he will therefore emulate the extraordinary achievements of the five-time Ballon d'Or winner. But to be ahead of him in terms of goals and assists is an incredible feat which further underlines his world-class potential - if he is not at that level already, that is.

There is further encouragement to be found when comparing Saka's record to those of some of the Premier League's best wide forwards in more recent years at the same age.

Saka has provided nearly 40 per cent more goals and assists than Raheem Sterling, for example, having played one game fewer than the former Liverpool and Manchester City man.

His numbers are higher than those of Marcus Rashford, Leroy Sane and Heung-Min Son too. Salah, meanwhile, was yet to even make a mark in a major European league having played for Swiss side Basel until the age of 21, then been a bit-part player at Chelsea.

For further context, Salah's former Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane was yet to play in a major European league at all having only just joined Southampton from Red Bull Salzburg at Saka's age.

The Arsenal forward is way ahead of schedule, comparatively, and his numbers are all the more impressive given he was used mostly as a left-back in his first 18 months in the side.

"It took me a while to figure him out," explained Arteta in conversation with Sky Sports in April 2021. "That's why I tried to play him in different positions, to see how he reacted.

"I wanted to test his character as well because he was playing as a left-back and I know it wasn't his ideal position, but he had to go through that period."

Saka came through it with flying colours, subsequently becoming an unmoveable presence on the right-hand side of Arsenal's attack. He has embraced the responsibility of being a talismanic figure in a team that remains one of youngest in the Premier League.

From one season to the next, his output has increased significantly as his all-round game has continued to improve. Now, with three months of the current campaign still to play, he is on course to smash his previous best total of 26 goals and assists.

It is a measure of how much we have come to expect from him that, even in the context of such impressive numbers, his form has at times come under scrutiny this season, most notably during a run of one goal in 11 Premier League games before Christmas.

But carry on scoring and assisting at his current rate, with 14 Premier League games still to play and as many as seven Champions League fixtures to come too, and Saka could end up with a total north of 40.

His pattern of improvement becomes even clearer when looking deeper into the numbers. This season, Saka is creating more chances and taking more shots than at any point in his career.

It is only natural, then, that he is scoring and assisting more, especially given the positions he is getting into. His numbers for touches in the opposition box are trending in the same direction as Arteta continually seeks to maximise his attacking threat.

There will come a point when Saka's minutes need to be managed more carefully in order to avoid burnout and ensure longevity. He has played an extraordinary number of minutes for someone so young. Another right-sided forward will be needed to share the load.

But at only 22, and as determined as ever to continue improving, it seems Arsenal's half-centurion is just getting started. It is a tantalising thought given the level he has already reached.

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