By Frankie Omokhua
The performance of Arsenal’s jewel, Bukayo Saka, following the restart of the English Premier League has continued to receive accolades and commendation from the high and lows in the society.
The list of Saka’s admirers has former and present superstars.
Arsenal legend, Ian Wright, echoed as he spoke about Saka’s future before signing the new deal:
“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”.
The club’s manager, Mikel Arteta, has shown his huge trust in the teenager and that paid off as Saka gave The Gunners the lead against Wolves with a fine half volley on Saturday. Saka’s emergence has been one of the stories of the season.
While his performances in the first team continue to impress, it is 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 mesmerised 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”.
“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 Joe Willock. The badge means something to these boys. They need to move forward together”.
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 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.
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.
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.
“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 has not made it quite yet, but, if he continues to learn from the club’s seasoned pros in the likes of 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. However, patience is needed.