Arsenal have a gem in Bukayo Saka: The next Eden Hazard in the Arsenal-Chelsea rivalry?

Has Bukayo Saka taken over the throne to become a thorn for rival London sides? Could he have become the next Eden Hazard in the Chelsea-Arsenal rivalry?

Premier League football is not the same as it used to be a few years ago. One could pinpoint to the arrival of Pep Guardiola and the increased emphasis on possession-based games that has taken the focus away from individual performances and given teams a collective objective that allows every player to put in the same yards as ten other players on the side.

In light of Eden Hazard’s retirement from the game, some debates were erupting on social media, looking to rank the Belgian’s stature. In his pomp, he was surely one of the best players on the planet, and surely in the Premier League when Chelsea won two titles with him.

Tottenham fans will remember him for that beauty of a goal that ended their title hopes, while other sides will also have sour memories of the Belgian ripping through their defences. One team, in particular, will have dreadful dreams of Hazard and what he did to them, Arsenal, where Bukayo Saka now rules.

Arsene Wenger initially wanted Hazard at Arsenal, and they remained linked for quite some time. The Belgian also expressed he was a fan of the club, which, from a fan’s perspective, would have been a cakewalk to sign him. Yet, Chelsea showed their character in the market with their decisive thinking and financial muscle to sign him up; and the rest is history.

Hazard tormented Arsenal time and again, and his famous goal where he ripped through their defence will live in the memories of Chelsea fans for a long time. The Belgian’s rise as the Premier League’s top talent coincided with the latter years of the Wenger era, where the Gunners generally regressed in quality.

Over the years between Arsenal and Chelsea, there have been many dominant individuals on either side. Much before the Hazard era, Thierry Henry used to torment the Blues each season; he was then succeeded by Didier Drogba, often the thorn for Arsenal.

After the arrival of Roman Abramovich and then Jose Mourinho, Chelsea had the upper hand in this fixture against Arsenal. That was until a few years ago, after which the Gunners have wielded control over proceedings and look like a team on the ascendency for the time being.

One of the big reasons for their rise is Bukayo Saka. Ask Tottenham fans, and they are petrified about the right winger and many other teams. The Arsenal academy graduate has put himself on the map with some stellar performances, and he is slowly building his momentum against Chelsea.

So the question here is whether Saka has taken up the place of Hazard as the tormentor of this Chelsea-Arsenal fixture. Recent evidence certainly points towards the obvious, but the clash at Stamford Bridge on Saturday will be another quest for the young English winger, of course, that is if he plays.

Bukayo Saka’s rise at Arsenal

There was a lot of confusion when Saka was regularly deployed as a left-back or a wing-back under Unai Emery and even Mikel Arteta. The latter shoehorned him in that role during that fabulous run to win the FA Cup. But his rise as a winger came about in the following season.

Arsenal were riding through a rough patch, probably their worst in two decades. They then met Chelsea at the Emirates, a game where everyone thought the Gunners would lose again. Instead, they put in a fabulous performance inspired by their two Hale End boys, Saka and Emile Smith Rowe.

Saka incidentally finished off the game with a stunner from the edge of the box to give Edouard Mendy no chance whatsoever. That goal marked the beginning of something new from an Arsenal perspective, with Saka then steadily starting his run of tormenting London sides and subsequently becoming the key man under Arteta.

They also won at Stamford Bridge during that season, courtesy of a Smith Rowe goal. And since then, Arsenal have not lost at the venue. In fact, they have won their last three games against the Blues home and away and will enter this Saturday’s matchup aiming to make it four consecutive wins.

Saka has been instrumental in each of those games. In their 2-4 win in the 2021/22 season, he scored the penalty while providing the assist for Gabriel Magalhaes’s goal last season at this venue. While he still has a long way to go in order to reach Hazard’s level, he surely looks like the ideal fit to take on the baton from the Belgian.

Arsenal are here to dominate Chelsea.

The Gunners have risen under Arteta to another level and are no longer the slouches who caved against the bigger sides. Their latest win over Manchester City, after 12 consecutive defeats, has already put them in the top bracket and will come in as overwhelming favourites when they arrive at Stamford Bridge.

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Arsenal have become the club that are deemed the strongest enough to challenge Manchester City and knock them off the perch. Chelsea, on the other hand, are only entering a resurgent phase of their season after a disastrous start.

Yet, there is no doubting Arteta and his charges to challenge Manchester City this season, while Chelsea are eager to get some results on board and challenge for a European place. The rise of Arsenal under the Spanish manager is thanks in large part due to Saka and his contribution to the cause.

After starting 87 Premier League games in a row, the winger’s status ahead of the trip to Stamford Bridge remains under a cloud. Even if he does not start on Saturday, the England international has steadily become a top-rated star, feared by the opposition, including Chelsea.

It is up to Saka to assert himself in a way that Therry Henry, Didier Drogba and Eden Hazard did during their pomp. These are individuals who have ensured the spotlight constantly remained over their heads, especially during these big games.

Saka has all the ingredients to emulate them, and for him, Hazard must be a role model over the others. He is certainly showing signs of becoming the next Hazard of this Chelsea-Arsenal rivalry, which would largely benefit the Gunners in their quest to assert their dominance.

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