On July 1st 2020, Bukayo Saka put an end to the speculation surrounding his future by signing a new four-year contract with the Gunners. Having committed to the London-based side until at least 2024, the Gunners head coach, Mikel Arteta, is reportedly set to demand more from the breakthrough prospect in future seasons. So, let’s take a look at why retaining Saka is so pivotal to Arsenal.
Indications of a Long-Term Vision
Under the guidance of Arsene Wenger during his 22-season spell with Arsenal, the team from Islington became renowned for providing a platform to young, up-and-coming, hungry prospects. In opting to stay with the 13-time league title winners, Saka joins a long list of players who have spent the early years of their careers developing in North London. Along with the likes of Theo Walcott and the recently crowned Premier League champion Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the winger is generally considered as being the most promising prospect to come through at Arsenal since Cesc Fabregas.
Crucially, this is highlighted by statistics. According to a report by The World Game, and at the time of writing, the 18-year-old has this season become the first Arsenal teenager to surpass Fabregas’ total of ten assists from the 2006-07 season. Moreover, as per the official Premier League website, Saka is one of England’s top assist providers in the league with four, behind the likes of Jordan Henderson, Marcus Rashford, and Trent Alexander-Arnold, for example. It’s because of his on-field contributions that Arsenal remain in the hunt for a European spot come the end of the season, with the club being 9/1 to finish in the top six with Premier League betting, as of July 2nd.
Fundamentally, in signing a new long-term contract with the Gunners, Saka has shown the club the same faith that was put in him by both Arteta and his predecessor, Unai Emery. Furthermore, because of his willingness to learn, the five-foot-ten attacker has been used as a utility player for much the 2019-20 campaign. Transfermarkt state that, since the start of the season, Saka has been deployed in five different positions, with the majority of his appearances coming either from full-back or left midfield. Importantly, from a progression standpoint, and because of the 18-year-old’s undeniable versatility, the Gunners’ current head coach has more much-needed options at his disposal.
Retention of Promising Academy Graduates
In years gone by, Arsenal have struggled to retain their star players. From Robin van Persie to Samir Nasri, the Gunners’ inability to consistently compete for the league title has impacted their appeal among players. In turn, this is why it was so pivotal for the North London team to make a statement with Saka. Moreover, it’s also a sign of faith from Arteta that he, and the club, are prepared to support and financially invest in the futures of the side’s promising academy graduates.
Prior to extending his stay with Arsenal, Saka had been linked with a move to the six-time Champions of Europe, Liverpool. The Reds were reportedly keen on bringing in a versatile option to cover for Andy Robertson. However, the rumoured interest seemingly didn’t result in a concrete offer. That said, the 18-year-old’s desire to stay at the Emirates showcases the club’s appeal, even up against the likes of Jurgen Klopp’s title-winning Reds.
Additionally, with Folarin Balogun seemingly on the brink of exiting Arsenal this summer after failing to agree a new deal, tying Saka down to a long-term contract becomes even more significant. While, of course, the Gunners wouldn’t want to lose any of their promising young players, the 18-year-old Englishman has shown the most potential, and he’s done so at top-flight level. In turn, retaining him above all others was of utmost importance.
An Encouraging Future Lies Ahead
Ultimately, few can argue with the fact that, in keeping Saka, Arsenal have managed to retain one of the brightest young prospects in English football. While there are no guarantees regarding what his career at the Emirates will bring, his breakthrough season suggests that he will provide no shortage of goals and assists in the years to come.