Mikel Arteta insists he has a ‘stick’ ready to whack Bukayo Saka with if the Arsenal star gets too big for his boots. But he is confident he won’t need it.
Saka emphasised his growing importance to both Arsenal, for whom he has notched a dozen goals and ten assists this season, and England, with two superb displays and another goal in the international break in the Euro 2024 qualifying wins against Italy and the Ukraine.
The 21-year-old right now is one of the most in-form forwards in the country - but Arteta insists he is still the same kid he saw when he walked back into the club as manager four years ago.
And the Arsenal manager is adamant that Saka can still get better.
The table-topping Gunners face struggling Leeds at the Emirates today, and Arteta said: “There has been a shift in Bukayo’s mentality. He is deciding football matches more and more often.”
And can he handle the hype? Arteta reckons: “He does it in a really natural way.
“He had moments when it was the opposite. He’s going to have to deal with that, with the expectations. We have to help him.
“So - don’t read too much, don’t listen too much, just focus on what you have to do. That’s it. We always have a stick ready, don’t worry.
“But he’s so humble, very intelligent. He knows where this is coming from. It’s like a cloud, here one moment and gone tomorrow. Keep your eyes open and be alert because this industry is very tough.
“He still has things to improve. I have talked to coaches in different sports. I asked them: have you ever coached a player that has fulfilled his potential? And the answer from all of them was no. And you’re talking about Michael Jordan and people like that. Everyone can get better.
“Bukayo is basically the same kid as when I came here. The way he treats people, the guys at the training ground. He has been raised like that.”
The Gunners have registered six straight wins since losing to Manchester City at the Emirates in February, and now stand eight points clear of their rivals with ten games to go.
Arteta will still be without back injury victim William Saliba, but the Gunners manager is hopeful that the Frenchman will be available before the end of the campaign.
Saliba missed the last game before the international break, and then pulled out of the France squad, but Arteta is confident that the defender will not need surgery: “He is progressing, but still has discomfort. He’s trying to do everything to feel better and get back training.”