Bukayo Saka breaks 26-year Premier League appearance record for Arsenal

Bukayo Saka’s exemplary professionalism has underpinned his undroppable status for Arsenal.

The wildest lifestyle choice for a straight-A student at school is his penchant for a pre-match chocolate bar – Twix is Saka’s go-to option.

By starting Arsenal’s home meeting with Fulham on Saturday afternoon, Saka set a club record of 83 consecutive Premier League appearances. Paul Merson, the individual who had previously held the honour, enjoyed a rather different approach to professional football.

In 1994, Merson admitted that he had an alcohol, cocaine and gambling addiction in a tearful press conference. The former PFA Young Player of the Year spent three months in rehab before making his return in February 1995. Remarkably, Merson wasn’t left out of a top-flight match across the subsequent two years.

Paul MersonPaul Merson

Paul Merson was an Arsenal regular despite his off-field activities / Shaun Botterill/GettyImages

Player

Time period

Consecutive appearances

Bukayo Saka

May 2021 – present

83

Paul Merson

Feb 1995 – Feb 1997

82

Gael Clichy

Mar 2007 – Apr 2009

78

Gabriel Magalhaes

Sep 2021 – present

76

Nigel Winterburn

Apr 1996 – Feb 1998

66

Granit Xhaka

Mar 2017 – Dec 2018

65

Bernd Leno

Sep 2018 – Jun 2020

62

Jens Lehmann

Feb 2005 – Nov 2006

61

Lee Dixon

Apr 1995 – Dec 1996

60

Olivier Giroud

Jan 2015 – May 2016

56

Correct as of 26 August 2023

Merson fostered a strong relationship with Arsenal’s dictatorial manager George Graham. When asking his coach why he always kept faith in him, Merson remembered Graham explaining: “If you have a Rolls Royce and it breaks down you get it fixed. If you have a Morris Minor and it breaks down you f*** it off.”

“That was it,” Merson recalled. “Straight back out that night!”

Yet, Graham was only Arsenal manager for two of Meron’s 82 consecutive appearances before he was forced to dramatically step back from the role. Nevertheless, Stewart Houston, Bruce Rioch and the incoming Arsene Wenger all kept faith with a player who, in light of his consistent selection, was perhaps unfairly viewed as mercurial.

READ THE LATEST ARSENAL NEWS, TRANSFER RUMOURS & GOSSIP

Saka’s entire run has been overseen by Mikel Arteta. Arsenal’s enigmatic manager has high expectations of Saka’s durability. “Look at the top players in the world,” Arteta said last season in response to claims that the English winger had been overworked. “They play 70 matches [a season], and every three days they make the difference and win the game. You want to be at the top, you have to be able to do that.”

Gabriel Magalhaes is another core member of the current Arsenal cabal. The Brazilian centre-back started the club’s first two matches of the 2023/24 season on the bench but last sat out an entire 90 minutes of Premier League football in September 2021.

Aside from Saka and Merson, the list of Arsenal’s most frequent performers is dominated by goalkeepers (Bernd Leno, Jens Lehmann) and defenders (Gael Clichy, Nigel Winterburn, Lee Dixon) where rotation is less common. Olivier Giroud is the only other forward to have appeared in more than 55 consecutive Premier League games for the Gunners.

Bukayo SakaBukayo Saka

Bukayo Saka scored a screamer on the opening day of the 2023/24 Premier League season against Nottingham Forest / Julian Finney/GettyImages

Saka may have established himself as one of the Premier League’s best right wingers – he was one of only two players in the division to hit double digits for goals and assists last season – but he started this record-breaking sequence at left-back.

Nicolas Pepe was preferred to Saka on the right flank against Sam Allardyce’s West Bromwich Albion back in May 2021, while Willian lined up on the opposite wing. Despite his defensive duties, Saka still conspired to create the opening goal of the game, teeing up fellow academy graduate Emile Smith Rowe.

Saka’s rise through the Arsenal ranks was tethered to Smith Rowe. The pair of academy graduates didn’t initially have their own song but were serenaded with a chant that celebrated both of them.

In the summer of 2021, Saka was given Arsenal’s famous number 7 shirt while Smith Rowe inherited Mesut Ozil’s 10. Yet, while Saka has racked up 83 consecutive Premier League appearances since that defeat of the Baggies, injuries have not allowed Smith Rowe to exceed 18 on the spin.

In Smith Rowe’s continued absence, the Emirates crowd has had to come up with a new chant. With Saka a constant presence, there have been plenty of opportunities to hail the team’s ‘starboy’.

LISTEN TO 90MIN’S ARSENAL PODCAST, THE CHRONICLES OF A GOONER

On this edition of The Chronicles of a Gooner, part of the 90min podcast network, Harry Symeou looks back at Arsenal’s win over Crystal Palace, focusing on the system, Declan Rice’s performance, Tomiyasu’s red card, Nketiah and more! If you can’t see this embed, click here to listen to the podcast!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.