Mikel Arteta calls on referees to better protect Arsenal forward Bukayo Saka

Mikel Arteta has warned that the target on Bukayo Saka’s back is growing after some heavy treatment from opponents in recent weeks and urged referees to protect the in-form forward.

Saka hobbled off before the half-hour in last month’s win over Nottingham Forest and appeared to be accused of diving by Graham Potter when Arsenal defeated Chelsea last Sunday. He was booked for simulation at Southampton when replays suggested he had been fouled and Arteta said officials need to be aware that players receive closer attention as their reputations grow.

“The referees have the duties to deal with that,” he said. “The better the players become, the bigger target they become, because people try to find ways to stop him. That is why football has very clear rules, what you can do and what you cannot do, and that is the referee’s job.”

Arteta did not place all the onus on referees, saying his team need to be “more intelligent” in finding ways to place Saka in situations that pose less physical risk. “It becomes about the timing, the decision making, the space you have generated before that action, and the understanding and knowledge of what is going to happen before it happens,” he said. “Sometimes [we can improve] the type of ball we give him and when we give him certain balls.”

Saka will be fit to face Wolves at Molineux on Saturday. Three points would guarantee Arsenal top spot in the Premier League over the World Cup break, an outcome few had considered likely in August. After the weekend 10 of their players, including England’s Saka, will head to Qatar; from 4 December the remaining squad members will travel to Dubai for a 10-day training camp.

During that period they are expected to face Lyon and Milan in a series dubbed the Dubai Super Cup, with Liverpool completing the quartet but not lined up as opponents. On their return they intend to host a friendly on 17 December, with Barcelona likely visitors to the Emirates. The intention is that, as far as possible, Arsenal’s World Cup representatives will be able to join up with their club colleagues in the United Arab Emirates as and when they exit the competition.