Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta was shown a glimpse of what life is like without Bukayo Saka in Tuesday’s Champions League defeat to Lens. The Gunners suffered their first loss of the season after losing their star winger through injury in the first half.
It is the third game in a row that Saka has been substituted due to injury. He is fouled so regularly that he often suffers knocks which force him out the remainder of matches but is something he can recover from quickly.
But this latest blow could finally see his incredible run in the Premier League come to an end. It appeared as though he was holding his hamstring when he went off in France.
Arteta was none the wiser to how long Saka could be out for. However, he did confirm it was a muscular injury.
Arteta said: “He tried to backheel the ball in the first half and felt something, it was something muscular and he was uncomfortable to carry on so we had to take him off. We don’t know anything more than that, obviously it was big enough not to allow him to continue to play the game and that’s obviously a worry for us.”
It certainly is a concern for Arteta who saw the impact of Saka’s substitution in plain sight. Saka had already contributed to the opening goal for Arsenal, laying on the assist for Gabriel Jesus.
Arsenal looked dangerous in attack and could have scored more before Lens equalised in the 25th minute. Saka was forced off shortly after and everything seemed to go wrong from there for the visitors.
Fabio Vieira was brought but is in no way a like-for-like replacement. He looked lost at times on the right in a position he has rarely played for the Gunners.
So much of Arsenal’s attacking movements go through Saka because he is nearly always there. He has played a club-record 87 Premier League matches in a row, starting 83.
Arsenal players are so used to having Saka there that they aren’t quite sure what to do when he isn’t. They struggled to get in behind Lens, especially after the French side took the lead.
With Gabriel Martinelli also out, and Leandro Trossard and Martin Odegaard both substituted, Arsenal finished the game with a very depleted frontline. But Saka’s absence in particular left a gaping hole and it showed what life could be like in the coming weeks, starting with the visit of Manchester City on Sunday.