Steven Gerrard warns Bukayo Saka of tough tackles as he battles "screws in hips"

Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard has laughed off Arsenal's Bukayo Saka’s plea for more protection on the pitch – and warned him of the physical reality of becoming a top Premier League star.

Liverpool legend Gerrard claimed the youngster needs to realise that tackling is allowed after Saka moaned to referee Andrew Madley that Villa were too heavy handed during Arsenal's 1-0 win at Villa Park.

And while Villa boss Gerrard waxed lyrical about the 20-year-old’s ability as a player, he made it clear that Saka needs to man-up when it comes to taking the knocks in the heat of battle.

The winger’s main grumble centred around a 34th-minute challenge from Tyrone Mings which flattened the Arsenal man and had players squaring up to each other. Mings was booked even though replays showed that he clearly got the ball first. It came just four minutes after Saka had fired the visitors ahead with a left foot shot which flew in through a ruck of players.

Mikel Arteta ’s men were clearly unhappy about the sliding tackle which left Saka with a cut foot, but the Villa boss was having none of it. Gerrard said: “He’s a good player, an outstanding talent. I love him. But he can’t complain about that side of it, that’s football. I’m sitting here now with screws in my hips. I’ve had about 16 operations. I’m struggling to go to the gym at the moment. That’s all on the back of earning a living in English football. He’ll learn and he’ll learn quick.”

Saka revealed why he’d had a word with the ref, saying: “I wasn’t complaining but I wanted to let him know that I’m going to run at players. Sometimes I need a bit more protection when the opposition is trying to kick me.” Gerrard countered: “He said we were too rough? They didn’t commit any fouls today? Listen, it’s part of the game. The last time I checked, it wasn’t a no-contact sport. I think tackles are allowed, physicality is allowed, aggression is allowed as long as it’s fair.”

Is Gerrard right to tell Saka to toughen up? Let us know in the comments section.

In fairness, the Villa boss had no complaints about the actual result, more the part his team played in their own undoing. His players didn’t show any real sign of life until after the break and even then, it was never quite enough. The damage had been done ina first half in which Arsenal did emerge with plenty of credit. There’s a bit of an edge to them these days – they stand up and scrap for each other when required.

They kept Villa totally at arm’s length in the opening 45 minutes and pounced on the half hour when Saka seized his opportunity with a first-time left foot shot.

Former Arsenal keeper Emi Martinez managed to get a hand to it, but must have seen it late as it flew through a group of players on its way. Gerrard demanded more at the break and got it to a certain extent though it was never enough.

Arsenal were well-drilled, well organised and clearly determined to drive home with all three points. Danny Ings dropped a glancing header onto the top of the net and Ollie Watkins struck the post with a shot but Arsenal’s scariest moment came with the very last kick of the match when Bernd Leno had to go full stretch to push away a Philippe Coutinho free kick.

Asked if Arteta’s side are good enough to stay in the top four, Gerrard was in no doubt, and added: “One hundred per cent. They’re in the top four now, so that tells you everything you want to know. They’re in a really good place but what’s clear is that’s taken time. There has been a lot of turnover of players and staff, a lot of changes to the culture and mentality.”

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