Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard refuted claims that Bukayo Saka needed extra protection from referees after the Arsenal star came in for some rough treatment over the weekend
Mikel Arteta has sent reminded Steven Gerrard that players like Bukayo Saka “are the reason why we are all here”.
The Arsenal boss’ pointed remark came shortly after Saturday’s tempestuous clash with Aston Villa, a game which was decided by a first-half strike by Saka. However, the England international was unable to complete the game, ultimately having to make way following a robust challenge by the hosts’ skipper Tyrone Mings.
That final tackle summed up a physical approach by Gerrard’s side, as they tried – and ultimately failed – to stop the Gunners talisman. Villa certainly aren’t the first side to rotate fouls in order to curb the impressive youngster, and the chances are they won’t be the last.
But focus on Saka’s treatment has been put under the spotlight after the 20-year-old admitted to asking referee Andrew Madeley for extra protection from opposition players.
“I wasn’t complaining to the ref, but I just wanted to let him know that that’s my game, running at players with pace and sometimes I need a bit more protection when players are purposefully trying to kick me,” he told BT Sport after the full-time whistle.
A visibly frustrated Gerrard, whose career was punctuated by blood and thunder tackles, had little time for Saka’s plea, referring to the litany of injuries he suffered during his own illustrious playing career.
“He’s a good player, an outstanding talent. I love him. But he can’t complain about that side of it, that’s football,” Gerrard said. “I’m sitting here now with screws in my hips. I’ve had about 16 operations. I’m struggling to go to the gym at the moment.
“That’s all on the back of earning a living in English football. He’ll learn and he’ll learn quick,” before adding: “He said we were too rough? They didn’t commit any fouls today?
“Listen, it’s part of the game. The last time I checked, it wasn’t a no-contact sport. I think tackles are allowed, physicality is allowed, aggression is allowed as long as it’s fair.”
Gerrard’s comments will be difficult to swallow for Arsenal fans, who know all too well how injuries can derail the career of a player seemingly destined for the top. The circumstances may be different, but aged 20, Jack Wilshere appeared to have the world at his feet, only for his own all-action displays to cruelly deny the Gunners one of the most naturally talented players of his generation.
Saka arguably has even more excitement surrounding his fledgling career, with the forward already the talisman in a side which looks right at the start of their cycle. And Arteta urged Premier League referees to listen to players, with players like Saka the type that fill stadiums up and down the country.
“He probably gave him what he felt on the pitch. I think the refs try to do their best but we have to listen to the players. They are the reason why we’re all here,” Arteta explained.
Gerrard accepted that he was emotional and disappointed following the 1-0 defeat at Villa Park and while the fact that Saka will have to learn from the treatment is true, finding ways to ensure injuries don’t plague his career should also be put on the table as well.