(Reuters) – Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta defended his decision not to rest winger Bukayo Saka in a 1-0 Europa League win over PSV Eindhoven on Thursday, saying the world’s top players are expected to perform at their best while playing once every three days.
Saka has started 12 of the Premier League club’s 14 matches in all competitions this season and was on the team sheet once again as Granit Xhaka’s second-half goal secured Arsenal a place in the Europa League knockouts.
The England international, who will be hoping to maintain his fitness ahead of next month’s World Cup, appeared to be struggling before being substituted in the 85th minute.
“He got a kick, he was limping a little bit, but hopefully, he will be alright,” Arteta told reporters. “Look at the top players in the world. They play 70 matches, play every three days and make the difference and win the game.
“You want to be at the top, you have to be able to do that. And if we start to put something different in the mind of a young player, I think we are making a huge mistake … I want them knocking on my door (saying), ‘I want to play, I want to win the game’.
“There is no fitness coach in the world that is going to tell me that they cannot do it because I’ve seen it. The players that score 50 goals do not play 38 games in the season.”
Arsenal have won all four group matches to occupy the top spot on 12 points in Group A, followed by PSV on seven and Bodo/Glimt with four. FC Zurich remain without a point.
Arsenal, who are top of the Premier League standings on 27 points, next travel to 14th-placed Southampton on Sunday.
(Reporting by Aadi Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Tom Hogue)