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Arsenal hero Saka credits Ljungberg for rapid rise

14:00 GMT+3 20/09/2019
Bukayo Saka Freddie Ljungberg Arsenal
The youngster set up two and bagged one of his own in European competition and singled out the former winger for aiding his development

Arsenal hero Bukayo Saka has paid tribute to Freddie Ljungberg after his man-of-the-match performance in Frankfurt.

The 18-year-old winger scored his first senior goal for the Gunners as they kicked off their Europa League campaign with a 3-0 win against Eintracht to move to the top of Group F.

Saka also set up both other goals - for Joe Willock and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang - to cap a memorable night for the teenager at the Commerzbank Arena.

And after the game he was quick to point out the role Arsenal legend Ljungberg has had on his development.

“Freddie’s information is vital for me because I play in the same position as him and he’s been a big part in my progress,” the young forward said.

“I feel like he’s been a player before so he understands how I would feel, he’s played in my position and it’s just so good to have him there, an Arsenal legend giving me advice. There’s not much more I can ask for.”

Ljungberg was Saka’s coach last season with the Under-23s, but the Swede stepped up to the senior set-up in the summer to take a place within Unai Emery’s coaching team.

The move was made with the aim of helping the young players who were promoted to be part of the first-team squad – like Willock, Emile Smith Rowe and Reiss Nelson.

Technically, Saka is still within the youth ranks at Arsenal, having only turned 18 a fortnight ago, but he showed on Thursday night that he is already more than capable of playing at the top level.

And he says Ljungberg continues to play a big part in his rise.

“He gives a lot of advice to me every day but the best piece of advice he’s given me is to stay humble,” said the teenager. 

“He’s been with me since I was 15, seen me do amazing things but he always tells me to stay humble and to keep working hard because he really thinks I can be a top player.

“It helps so much [having Ljungberg around]. When the coach is trying to communicate with me, I have a better communication with Freddie sometimes, he speaks better English.”

Saka first joined Arsenal when he was nine, rejecting approaches from Tottenham to move to the Gunners.

He has progressed through the Hale End academy and has always played in higher age groups, with Arsenal well aware of the talent he possesses.

Emery handed him his debut in the Europa League last year when he came off the bench during the 3-0 win against Vorksla in Kiev, before making his first start against Qarabag at the Emirates later in the competition.

He also made substitute appearances in the FA Cup and the Premier League and says he has learnt a lot working under the Spaniard.

“In training every day he is always helping,” said Saka. “If I do something wrong, he’ll tell me, which is good because I don’t want him to think because I’m a young player that he won’t shout at me, put my confidence down. He tells me when I’m good too. 

“I feel like I have learned so much playing in his team and I’m happy that he put his faith in me.”

Saka was undoubtedly the star of the show on Thursday night as Arsenal inflicted Frankfurt’s heaviest ever home defeat in a UEFA competition.

The German side were unbeaten at home in their last 16 Europa League games, but that proud record was ended by Emery’s young team.

Saka set up Willock for the first goal before curling home a superb second five minutes from time.

Aubameyang then put the seal on an impressive victory, calmly slotting home his sixth goal of the season having been sent clear by Saka in the closing stages.

It was an excellent night for the Gunners and one that Saka will never forget.

“I’ve always dreamt of this moment,” he said. “From when I was a kid, [I’ve wanted] to score a goal for Arsenal Football Club. Now I've done it, I just want to keep working, stay humble, get that feeling again one day.

“I had so many messages: Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat. I had them from everyone. I even gave my dad a quick FaceTime call. He was so proud of me.

“He’s a massive inspiration for me. From when I was young, he always kept me grounded, kept me humble and I’m sure he’ll see some criticisms from tonight, something I can get better from, but I’m sure I would have made him happy.

“I couldn’t speak to him because the coaches wanted me to get in the ice bath for recovery. We just put our thumbs up to each other, I saw him smiling and it was a proud moment.”