It has been an extremely torrid season for Arsenal – but if last week was anything to go by, then perhaps the club can finally see light at the end of the tunnel.
Arsenal have never really got going this season, battling it out in mid-table as they continued to surrender on the pitch with their confidence at an all-time low.
And following the Premier League’s restart they resumed in similar vein, losing to Manchester City – which yes, was expected – before suffering a shock defeat at then relegation-threatened Brighton despite going a goal ahead. The same old stories about same old Arsenal had been written.
Bukayo Saka has been the success story of Arsenal’s season thanks to his brilliant emergence
Saka capped off a dream week by scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Premier League
Earlier in the week, the 18-year-old reaped his rewards by signing a fresh four-year contract
However, what has followed is four wins on the bounce, culminating in a brilliant victory over Champions League chasing Wolves. Confidence appears high again and Saturday’s 2-0 victory at Molineux showed that perhaps better times lay ahead under up and coming manager Mikel Arteta, who is looking to usher in a youth revolution in north London.
At the forefront of his future plans appears to be the name of Bukayo Saka – the jewel in Arsenal’s crown during a turbulent campaign.
It has been a whirlwind season for the 18-year-old, thrown straight into the deep end in a team struggling for momentum and identity. But he has taken everything in his stride and last week got his just rewards.
After penning a new four-year contract with Arsenal last Wednesday, his week got even better after scoring his first-ever Premier League goal for his beloved club against Wolves – thanks to a fine left-footed finish on the half volley.
‘It’s been a week that I will remember for my whole life. We can see what the manager is building,’ Saka said after describing recent events.
There had initially been some worries among the fanbase that Arsenal might come unstuck in the transfer market again – losing their golden talent with his contract expiring at the end of next season.
The likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and Bayern Munich had been circling but Arsenal put an end to any fears by tying the 18-year-old down for the future. Gabriel Martinelli, another of the club’s shining young guns, also signed fresh terms this week.
So, things are starting to look a little rosy again for Arsenal and Saka and Martinelli’s extensions were met with a huge buzz from the club’s fanbase. They know the duo can be the future.
And that is exactly what club legend Ian Wright echoed as he spoke about Saka’s future before signing the new deal.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has continued to show his huge trust in the teenager
Saka gave Arsenal the lead against Wolves with a fine half volley on Saturday afternoon
Wright said: ‘He’s right, him and his representatives, to hold out as best they can because he’s the future of the club. They cannot afford to let a player like this leave.’
Saka’s emergence has been one of the stories of the season. While his performances in the first team continue to impress, it’s his incredible versatility that steals the headlines.
Despite plying his trade as a winger growing up in Arsenal’s academy, Saka has deputised at left back, left wing back, left central midfield, and most recently on Saturday, at right wing – where he nonchalantly gave the Gunners the lead against Wolves.
Wherever you put him, he appears to shine – certainly not fazed about his unfamiliar surroundings. And that goes a long way to highlighting his incredible professionalism at such a tender age.
He has already earned huge trust from Arteta, and before that from Unai Emery – who handed him his first taste of senior football for Arsenal, giving him his debut against Poltava in the Europa League last season before his Premier League berth against Fulham.
And it speaks volumes that Arteta is already demanding more from his youngster. ‘He is the player that represents every value that this football club stands for,’ the Spaniard said after Arsenal’s 4-0 win over Norwich.
‘He’s come through the academy, so big credit to everyone who has been involved in the process of developing the player and the person that he is today.
Saka has continued to win plaudits throughout the season thanks to his impressive versatility
‘He’s come into my hands, our hands, really mature, really focused and really well developed in his knowledge about what he needs to do in the game, and it was really important for me to keep him and have big belief in him.
‘From now on, I will be demanding more because he can give us more and more hopefully in the future.’
Saka has also previously been described by Emery as a ‘sensational player’ while Freddie Ljungberg – who has played an instrumental role in his development through the youth ranks – labelled him a ‘tremendous talent’.
Arsenal know just how much of a special talent they have on their hands, but it’s not just inside the club where he has been earning the plaudits.
Former Manchester United star Rio Ferdinand, who enjoyed many immense battles with Arsenal in the past, has urged the club to build their team around Saka.
Ferdinand said: ‘I think Arsenal need people with the right attitude, right characters and people that want to be at the club. Looking at his statement, he buys into the philosophy, and he wants to move forward with the club.
‘I would build the club around him, around players like Willock. The badge means something to these boys. They need to move forward together.’
The Arsenal youngster hasn’t seemed fazed by his surroundings on the biggest stage of all
Meanwhile, former Arsenal captain and United striker Robin van Persie, lauded: ‘If you point out Saka, I’m a huge fan of his.
‘He can play as a defender, he can play midfield, striker, not the main striker but on the wing. He’s a multi-talented player who can offer assists, goals, he’s a joy to watch.’
The praise doesn’t stop there though, and Arsenal fans rightly celebrated Saka’s renewal – viewing it is as an important step forward for their club they have seen fall into mediocrity in recent times.
And they are right to be this excited. For years, they have seen many players come and go, with the club spending big money on transfer fees and wages for stars past their peak.
They have also witnessed some of their bright academy stars fail to make the grade when they’ve stepped up into the first team. But finally, one of their own has lived up to expectations and more.
At a time when Arsenal are faltering, it’s so refreshing to see youngsters making their mark – and Saka is just one of a long list of English starlets following that path – with the likes of Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson also getting plenty of game time this term, while they have Emile Smith Rowe out on loan at Huddersfield.
Saka in action as he made his senior competitive debut for Arsenal against Poltava in 2018
And Ashley Cole, who left Arsenal for London rivals Chelsea in a controversial move in 2006, understands the fans’ excitement about Saka’s breakthrough.
Cole said: ‘He feels that Arsenal is his home. He’s a young kid. The group they’ve got around him with extra young players is making him feel very welcome and at home.
‘I bet Arsenal fans are buzzing that he’s signed. He definitely looks one for the future, for sure.’
Meanwhile, Jamie Redknapp added: ‘I’m so pleased for that young man, Saka. He’s a joy to watch.’
While Saka is allowing his football to do the talking, off the pitch he seems like he has the grounded personality to take both him and Arsenal forward.
But for a while, Saka – who earned four A*s and three As in his GCSEs – feared he wouldn’t make it to Arsenal’s first team while he was developing his game in the academy.
After starting for Arsenal against Manchester United earlier in the season at Old Trafford, Saka reflected about his journey on the club’s official website: ‘I just enjoyed playing, but I don’t think I ever really thought I was going to make it to the first team until I actually signed my first professional contract when I turned 17.
Saka’s development has given Arsenal fans excitement about what the future has in store
‘You go through the youth teams, year by year, and you see all these great players around you – some of them could be the best in the year – and slowly they are all let go, to other clubs or even stopping completely.
‘So you could never be sure that you would make it, but what I said to myself is that I would always give my best in every single session. I always wanted to learn to get better, I always watched a lot of football to see how I could improve.’
Clearly that hard work paid off and he has since taken that philosophy into the first team.
He knows there is room for improvement and he knows he hasn’t made it quite yet, but if he continues to learn from the club’s seasoned pros – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Co – then Arsenal have a real gem on their hands.
Times have been tough recently at the Emirates but with Saka leading the way, along with fellow youngsters Martinelli, Willock and Co next to him, maybe the future is bright at Arsenal under Arteta. Patience is needed, however.