In Focus: Star man Saka can fire Gunners to glory
Arsenal are flying this season and Bukayo Saka has been one of the driving forces behind their surprise title charge.
The 21-year-old winger has taken his game to new heights this term, becoming an integral part of the dynamic and exciting young team that Mikel Arteta is building at the Emirates.
The Gunners' initial target for this season was to finish in the top four and secure Champions League football for the 2023-24 campaign.
But they are way ahead of that goal, instead finding themselves embroiled in a Premier League title race with Manchester City.
Ahead of their FA Cup tie at Oxford, we take a look at just how important Saka is to the North Londoners.
A strong start
Arsenal have come out of the blocks quickly in the Premier League this season.
Arteta's men have taken 44 points from their opening 17 games — giving them a comfortable lead over second-placed City, who have lifted four out of the last five Premier League titles.
That will not mean that they are complacent, though. Arteta, who has worked closely with Pep Guardiola at the Etihad in the past, knows just how strong — and relentless — the Citizens are.
And that is not the only front that the Gunners are fighting on. They are still alive in both the Europa League as well as the FA Cup and will fancy their chances of going the distance in both competitions, if Saka continues to perform as well as he has.
Saka has contributed an impressive six goals and six assists in 1,446 minutes of Premier League football this term.
Among his Arsenal team-mates, only Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Martinelli have outscored him and nobody has provided more assists.
The Englishman has also completed 21 take-ons — more than anyone else in a Gunners shirt aside from Martinelli (30) and Gabriel Jesus (27) — and created a team-high 37 chances for his team-mates.
Operating on the right of Arteta's favoured 4-3-3 system, he has been a menace to opposition defences.
Work of Art
England were eliminated by France in the quarter-final of the World Cup in Qatar but Saka's stock was raised during the tournament due to his consistently excellent performances for Gareth Southgate's side.
Speaking following his Player of the Match performance in England's 6-2 rout of Iran, he made sure to credit Arteta and the Arsenal coaching staff as well as Southgate for his recent development.
He said: "I have grown in many ways. Of course, I have got more big games under my belt, experience, more minutes. And with each game you always learn more and more.
"And when I have a coach at Arsenal and a coach here that are so supportive, [with] so much tactical detail to help me in training sessions and on the pitch, there is no way I was never going to improve."
Saka has all the ingredients to become a club legend at Arsenal.
The winger, born in Ealing, joined the Gunners at the age of just seven after short stints with Greenford Celtic and Watford.
Saka's first name, Bukayo, means "adds to happiness" in Yoruba — and he has most certainly added to the happiness of many Arsenal supporters since he made his debut in 2018.
He has contributed 30 goals and 35 assists in the 154 appearances he has made for Arsenal's first team.
His career-best season saw him register 11 goals and seven assists in 38 Premier League games in 2021-22. Such form has seen him earn 24 caps for England and score seven goals.
Not that Saka's journey has been a walk in the park — far from it.
Any footballer that makes it to the top level has run an inconceivably tough race and the young wide-man has also had to bounce back from tough times.
He missed the decisive penalty as England lost the final of Euro 2020 to Italy and suffered a barrage of racist abuse on social media in the aftermath of that fateful moment.
To bounce back stronger than ever, spearheading Arsenal's title challenge, is a remarkable testament to his character. And Oxford are next in his line of fire.