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Bukayo Saka deserves more recognition for Arsenal heroics, Raheem Sterling looks a Chelsea misfit - The Radar

The Radar column looks at Bukayo Saka's starring role in Arsenal's title challenge, the numbers that show Raheem Sterling's Chelsea days may be numbered, and the selection decision which may haunt Burnley boss Vincent Kompany

Bukayo Saka, Raheem Sterling and Arijanet Muric feature in The Radar
Image: Bukayo Saka, Raheem Sterling and Arijanet Muric feature in The Radar

Saka harshly overlooked for senior gong

The Premier League Player of the Season nominations prompted plenty of debate, not just around the individuals included but those who missed out. Rodri's absence from the senior list is hard to justify after a stellar season. Bukayo Saka can feel aggrieved too.

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He does of course feature on the young player list. But unlike fellow nominees Phil Foden, Erling Haaland, Cole Palmer and Alexander Isak, Saka does not make the cut for the main prize, with Arsenal represented instead by Declan Rice and Martin Odegaard.

Those team-mates have made huge contributions to Arsenal's title challenge. But it is difficult to look past Saka as the side's most influential figure. With 16 goals, his highest tally yet, and nine assists, his combined total puts him seven clear of any other Arsenal player.

Those numbers only tell part of the story.

Image: Arsenal are far more threatening on Bukayo Saka's side

Mikel Arteta has leaned on Saka more heavily than ever this term, with Arsenal directing a higher proportion of attacks down their right than any other Premier League side. Gabriel Martinelli's loss of form on the left has put yet more responsibility on his shoulders.

Odegaard is part of their right-sided strength too, of course. As is Arsenal's marauding right-back Ben White. But it is chiefly Saka who provides the threat. He is top in the Premier League for touches in the box and second only to Haaland for shots.

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None of this is news to Arsenal's Premier League rivals. But the fact Saka is so often double or even triple marked by opponents only makes those numbers more impressive.


The 22-year-old is not just tasked with getting on the end of things, either. He presses ferociously and tracks back diligently off the ball while still finding room to excel creatively too.

He ranks fourth in the Premier League for final-third passes, underlining his role in unpicking defences, and while there are three players ahead of him for chances created, he is top in terms of expected assists, highlighting the quality of those chances.

This level of all-round threat is unique in the Premier League. Saka is the only player this season to have reached double figures for both non-penalty expected goals and expected assists. His combined total of 21.15 puts him behind only Mohamed Salah and Haaland.

He stands out for his consistency too.

Even early in the season, before Arsenal's attack had clicked and as others laboured, Saka almost always delivered, contributing either a goal or assist in all but one of his first eight games, setting the tone for a period in which he often carried the side.

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Watch some of Bukayo Saka's best moments for Arsenal this season

It is curious, then, that in the context of such a dazzling season he is not in contention for the biggest individual prize. Arsenal's presence at the top of the Premier League owes more to him than any other player. Few at any club can rival the breadth of his contribution.

Sterling looks a misfit in Chelsea's resurgence

Mauricio Pochettino was candid in the wake of Chelsea's 2-0 win over Tottenham last week, talking up the importance of team spirit over big names in the side's recent resurgence.

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Twice, first in his on-pitch interview with Sky Sports and again in his press conference in the media room at Stamford Bridge, he went out of his way to praise Noni Madueke, holding up the young winger as an example of precisely what he was talking about.

Madueke had been "unbelievable", he said, as much for his defensive work-rate in helping to protect young right-back Alfie Gilchrist as for his contribution in the final third.

"This is what we need," added Pochettino. "Even if you have big players, big names, if they don't play like today, trying to help the team in a defensive situation, then it's impossible."

Raheem Sterling had a tough afternoon in front of goal for Chelsea, and was booed after mis-hitting a free-kick shortly before he was substituted
Image: Raheem Sterling has not started for Chelsea since March and has also lost his England place

Pochettino did not specify which "big names" he was referring to but the absent Raheem Sterling came to mind. Having impressed only in patches in the first half of the campaign, a combination of injury and illness has contributed to him not starting a game since March.

Sterling's pedigree is not in doubt. He is a four-time title winner whose 121 goals and 63 assists in 376 games put him among the Premier League's top 20 players in both categories.

But that level of productivity has dipped since his arrival from Manchester City and his defensive work raises even bigger questions about his place in this Chelsea team.

Premier League tracking data for this season shows Sterling has covered roughly a kilometre less than Chelsea's other attacking players at just 9.5km per 90 minutes. Only Mykhailo Mudryk registers fewer off-the-ball pressures per 90 minutes.

Most striking, though, is that Sterling spends 75 per cent of his time on the pitch walking. It is the highest figure of any forward in the division this term and contrasts sharply with those of Mudryk, Madueke, Nicolas Jackson, Cole Palmer and Conor Gallagher.

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In a rare interview, Chelsea owner Todd Boehly has said his plan for the club is "coming together" following their recent improvement

This has always been a feature of Sterling's game, at least to some extent. It is not an inherently bad thing given it allows him to conserve energy for the explosive bursts forward which have proved so devastating over the course of his Premier League career.

But as he struggles to provide the goals and assists to mitigate his comparatively modest off-the-ball work, and as his manager talks up the importance of defensive diligence in his attacking players, it becomes increasingly difficult to see where he fits in their future.

Kompany may regret his Muric delay

Burnley face the prospect of relegation back to the second tier when they face Tottenham on Saturday. Vincent Kompany's side sit five points from safety with only two games remaining.

But supporters are entitled to wonder what might have been if only their head coach had only swapped summer signing James Trafford for previous No 1 Arijanet Muric sooner.

Of course, Muric has had his moments since his reinstatement in March, giving goals away against Everton and Brighton with glaring errors when playing out from the back.

But Burnley have only lost two of the eight Premier League games he has started this season and their recent upturn in form is no coincidence. Those errors aside, Muric has excelled.

Image: Arijanet Muric ranks behind only Aston Villa's Emiliano Martinez for xG prevented

The underlying data highlights the quality of his shot-stopping.

According to Opta, the Kosovo international has registered a goals prevented figure of 6.98, the second-best in the division this season behind Aston Villa's Emiliano Martinez, in only 720 minutes of action. To put it simply, he has conceded roughly seven goals fewer than expected, based on the quality of shots he has faced.

Trafford, for all his undoubted promise, sits at the opposite end of the scale having conceded 60 goals, excluding own goals, from an expected total of only 50.62 across his 28 starts.

The change was needed. The problem is that it came too late.

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