'He is very important for us' – Emery excited by Saka's Arsenal debut
The Gunners boss was pleased with the teenager’s display in the Europa League, stating he has the ‘personality’ to add quality to the team
Unai Emery was full of praise for 17-year-old debutant Bukayo Saka after his energetic performance during Arsenal’s 1-0 win against Qarabag in Europe on Thursday evening.
Arsenal finished top of Group E, unbeaten thanks to a comfortable win at the Emirates, with Alexandre Lacazette grabbing the only goal of the game after 16 minutes.
With qualification for the knockout phase already guaranteed, Emery fielded a youthful starting XI which included Saka, who started his first senior game for the club.
Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah were also given a run out, but it was Saka who impressed most on the left-hand side, showing off his electrifying pace and dribbling ability.
The Englishman was unlucky not to grab a debut goal and always looked a threat in the final third, ultimately earning a glowing review from his manager.
“Every young player, we have the responsibility to give them chances, first to train with us and to be demanding with their performances,” Emery told a post-match press conference.
“We give them these chances in the games like today when we can do that.
“They show us in every match positive things. Today Saka also played with a good performance, with a very big personality and we were speaking at half-time.
“His personality is very important for us to continue trying to go 1v1 and break lines with his quality. He played with a very big personality and sometimes with a very good performance.
“It’s very important for his confidence and for us also, because we can look at this player and see the quality to help us.”
The Spanish boss made a number of changes to the line-up ahead of a Premier League clash against Southampton on Sunday, with Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Lacazette and Mesut Ozil granted starting berths.
The latter duo are expected to retain their place in the team this weekend, while the former will miss out due to suspension, as Emery went on to explain.
“We need to do the mix in the first XI between young players and players with experience,” he added. “You can improve and can play better if you have the players to help you on the pitch.
“Sokratis can’t play Sunday, [so] he can play today. Lacazette I think needs the rhythm of playing and it is not bad for him to play today. We decided for this reason.”
The Gunners are currently chasing a top-four finish in the Premier League and sit fifth in the table, level on points with Chelsea who are above them on goal difference.