Mikel Arteta allays Bukayo Saka injury fears after starring role for Arsenal

By Sports Desk November 08, 2023

Mikel Arteta played down concerns over Bukayo Saka’s fitness after he was forced off during Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Sevilla in the Champions League.

Saka scored in front of England manager Gareth Southgate to help the Gunners record a third victory in Group B and move within touching distance of the last-16.

Arteta substituted goalscorer Leandro Trossard and the excellent Gabriel Martinelli in the 81st minute but left Saka on and seconds later he went down holding his ankle after landing awkwardly before he limped off.

Arsenal host Burnley in the Premier League on Saturday while Southgate names his England squad for this month’s European Championship qualifiers with North Macedonia and Malta on Thursday, but Arteta suggested his six-goal attacker would be fine despite this latest bruising encounter.

He said: “At the end he wasn’t comfortable to carry on. Hopefully it’s not too much but I’m really pleased with his performance.

“I think he’s getting used to it (being kicked). I don’t think that’s going to change, especially with the way he plays and the way he attracts players, so he better get used to it because I don’t think it’s going to change.

“It was just a kick and I was told by the physios on the radio he wasn’t happy to continue. So he will have some discomfort but hopefully I am going to assume he will be OK.”

After the controversy of last weekend’s loss at Newcastle, where Arteta labelled the decision by VAR to award Anthony Gordon’s winner as “embarrassing”, this was a much-needed routine night for his injury-hit team.

With Eddie Nketiah ruled out with an ankle knock to join Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Jesus on the sidelines, Trossard led the line and broke the deadlock when he finished off a slick move in the 29th minute.

Jorginho unlocked the Sevilla defence with a wonderful through ball to Saka, who squared for Trossard to stroke home his fifth goal of the campaign.

Saka, who was fouled four times inside the opening 17 minutes, made the points safe with a smart finish after 64 minutes.

Martinelli released the England international away on the right and Saka cut inside Adria Pedrosa before he curled into the bottom corner.

Arsenal would have qualified for the knockout stages had Lens been victorious at PSV. But with a four-point gap at the top of Group B, the north London club will almost certainly continue their Champions League adventure in 2024.

Arteta added: “I think it was more of the really good things that we did against Newcastle. We didn’t need a response because the team performed extraordinarily well against a team that are really difficult to play against.

“Today it needed other requirements, tactically we needed something else and we implemented what we wanted really, really well, so I’m really happy with the last two performances.”

On top of worries over Saka, Takehiro Tomiyasu was also taken off during the interval.

“He had some discomfort in the first half,” Arteta said of the defender.

“We didn’t want to take any risks because he’s played a lot of minutes. With Alex (Oleksandr Zinchenko) on the bench ready to come in, I think it was the right decision.”

On Odegaard (hip) and Nketiah (ankle), Arteta added: “They are racing against the clock to be fit.

“They tried their best to be here today with us, it wasn’t possible and we have another 48 hours before we play Burnley. We’ll try again and see because we need players at the moment.”

Sevilla only managed their first shot on target in the seventh minute of stoppage time and suffered a second group defeat.

Boss Diego Alonso admitted: “We weren’t able to put in the performance we wanted to.

“Our opponents were better than us and did well. Our aim was to win the ball high up the pitch, but we were very far away from their area. That is my assessment.”

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