Bukayo Saka aiming to seize Euros opportunity with England after impressive Arsenal season

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·3-min read
Bukayo Saka aiming to seize Euros opportunity with England after impressive Arsenal season
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 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

Bukayo Saka is unlikely to start against Croatia on Sunday, but he is one of a host of potential game-changers Gareth Southgate can turn to, underlining the depth of attacking strength at England’s disposal.

That could be crucial to a successful Euros, with the Three Lions manager determined not to be so reliant on talisman Harry Kane.

Depending on who begins the game against Croatia on Sunday, Southgate will have the option of any number of Saka, Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford.

The opportunity will be there for someone to seize and become England’s hero. Saka, who has become a key player for Arsenal at the age of just 19, is determined to do just that.

“It is going to be a really difficult thing to pick the starting XI, of course, with the amount of quality we have in this team,” said Saka. “I don’t know what holds for the starting team in the first, second, third game, but all I know is that if I get my opportunity, I’ll take it.

“I’ll give a positive performance and have a chance of getting in the team. That’s the same for all the other players.”

Southgate played to England’s strengths when picking his 26-man squad — loading it with attacking talent.

A combination of players losing form — Rashford and Sterling — and the emergence of Foden and Grealish means Southgate heads into Sunday with doubts over what comprises his strongest forward line.

If it is Rashford and Sterling who start either side of Kane, then it will be a case of past achievements or continuity over recent performances. But Southgate will leave himself the back-up of speed, directness and the dribbling ability of those who do not make the first cut; precisely the type of qualities defenders hate to see late in the game and can turn matches on their heads.

 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

Compare that to the World Cup in 2018, when Kane’s diminishing returns as the tournament progressed left England desperately short without a Plan B.

Now Southgate has a Plan C or D, with Foden a star of Manchester City’s Premier League title triumph, Grealish taking his game up several levels with more top-flight experience and Sancho one of the brightest talents in Europe with Borussia Dortmund and a target for Manchester United this summer.

Saka has emerged as a rare positive in a season of struggle for Arsenal, which has highlighted the fighting qualities that complement his more thrilling talents.

“For Arsenal, it was tough at times, but that is the club I grew up in and that is the club I love,” he said. “For me, it was always about never giving up and always giving my best for the fans, because they deserve it.

“We obviously did not get to see them much in the stadium or hear them supporting us, but I could feel their support, so it was only right I should give my best and carry on fighting until the end of the season.”

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