Arsenal fans lived the start of a shared nightmare on Sunday when Bukayo Saka was forced off in the first half against Nottingham Forest through injury. But the Gunners look to have avoided the worst-case scenario — the club are “cautiously optimistic” that their star winger did not suffer a significant injury and that he should be available to face Chelsea. It’s a relief for the English national team (and Saka himself, too). He should be fine for the upcoming World Cup as well.
Said Mikel Arteta after the match when asked whether Saka’s World Cup availability was in doubt, “hopefully not, It was a bad kick right from the beginning he was limping, but I don’t see any further than that, let’s see how it is in the next couple of days. I think both [leg & ankle] got kicked a few times and he wasn’t comfortable to continue.”
We’ve seen the Saka injury coming for a long while. The Arsenal winger has a rough go of it in the Premier League, with opponents often coming through the back of his legs and hacking him down as he dribbles around them, frequently without sanction. Saka does not seem to get the same referee treatment or protection afforded to other star England players. My hope is that seeing him forced off with an injury, regardless of it being not serious, will serve as a wake-up call to the Premier League and the referees that they need to reevaluate how Saka is officiated. But I’m not going to hold my breath.
Should Saka miss time, Mikel Arteta has two options to fill his spot. Until Reiss Nelson’s two goal, one assist performance on Sunday, Fabio Vieira would have been nearly a lock to take Saka’s minutes. Neither Nelson nor Vieira can come close to matching Saka’s contribution, but they’ve both shown at various points this season, that they can produce moments of quality. Vieira has played more than Nelson, but has been inconsistent, flashing brilliant skill while also showing that he needs to get physically stronger (or play stronger) to compete in the Premier League. The worry with Nelson is that he’s hardly played. It’s possible his scoresheet-filling performance on Sunday was an aberration.
Arteta’s lineup for Thursday’s important Europa League match against FC Zurich could be instructive. I expect one of either Vieira or Nelson to start, and the other to get a 30-minute run out. I’d give the nod for Sunday to whichever plays fewer minutes. Marquinhos complicates things slightly because he might also get some time on the right, but any minutes he gets would be for development and fitness, not with an eye to Sunday.