It’s shaping up to be a lovely week but I’m sitting here this morning with 16 screws in my fingers, metal plates, titanium skeleton reinforcements, a carpal tunnel that goes all the way to centre of the earth, and with three hundred and seventy seven open heart surgeries because of the trauma inflicted upon me by this football club down the years, but that’s just what you’ve got to do it if you want to earn a living in football blogging. You won’t hear me complain about it.
Let’s start with the news that David Ornstein reports that Arsenal are moving to extend the contract of Bukayo Saka. He signed a deal in 2020, three years + 1 year option (essentially a four year deal), which takes him up until 2024. However, you can understand why the club would want to discuss new terms as soon as possible. His reputation, already shining very brightly on the domestic and international stage, is growing all the time.
His goal against Aston Villa on Saturday brought him into double figures for the season, an already impressive tally that he’s bound to improve on between now and the end the campaign, and he is a key part of our future. Thinking about where we go from here, regardless of what happens between now and May, the potential of Saka, along with Gabriel Martinelli, Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard as fundamental parts of our forward line-up is, to me at least, the most exciting aspect of what we have right now.
When you then consider the addition of at least one new striker, probably a player who is in the same kind of ball-park in terms of age (early to mid-20s anyway), you start to think about how we can become even more potent, and Mikel Arteta’s comments over the last few days where he talked about his team needing to score 90/100 goals in a season to compete for the title. We’re still some distance from that, but moving in the right direction. Saka will be, should be, a key part of that ambition.
It’s not an original observation by any stretch, but try and imagine what it would cost Arsenal to bring in two 20 year olds of the talent and potential of Saka and Smith Rowe from another club. Young, homegrown, English – even at this early stage of their careers, they would probably be beyond our reach. Remember Villa trying to buy Smith Rowe? We rebuffed their offers as pitiful, not even close enough to make us stop and think, let alone consider it.
However, there are clubs out there with the financial firepower to give us a difficult decision to make – especially if we get to a situation where a player has only a year left on their contract. Then you’re in a position where you might have to sell at a lower price because otherwise you lose him for nothing. Now, I’m not saying that’s what Saka is thinking or anything like that. He grew up at Arsenal, it’s easy to see how connected he is to the club and the fans, but there are always outside forces at play. The promise of riches and success elsewhere, agents who can shape the careers of the players they represent.
Which is why I can understand Arsenal moving now to extend his deal. His stock is high, but it’s come at a time when the team is making genuine progress and he’s a significant part of that. He’s enjoying his football here, and being involved in an exciting project with other talented young players must make coming to ‘work’ every day a pleasure. Not to mention the fact that he has absolutely earned improved terms based on his performances and contribution to the team.
As I’ve often said though, the most surefire way of keeping your best players isn’t a big wage offer or bonuses or incentives. Those don’t hurt but they don’t mean a jot if a player doesn’t feel like they can fulfil their ambitions and achieve success. There are exceptions, of course. Players who feel a kind of loyalty that means they will talk about wanting to win but are happy to hitch their wagon to a side that never wins anything at all, so we know what they’re really about.
Arsenal’s hand right now is strong. The team feels like it’s going places, you only needed to see the reaction to Saka at the final whistle at Villa Park from the fans – young and old – see how much he is loved, and if we continue this kind of progress, then they can make the case that trophies and tangible success are possible. Something we want him and need him to be a big part of. Strike while the iron is hot. It makes all the sense in the world to try and do it now, so fingers crossed it goes well and smoothly because his really is the only contractual situation at the moment that’s heading towards the worry zone.
Just a final mention today to remind you than Arsenal Women are playing a Champions League quarter-final first leg at the Emirates tomorrow evening. Tickets are still available, so if you’re around, why not get on down to show your support?
For more on the game and the storied opposition we’re facing, Tim has an excellent podcast with a Wolfsburg counterpart which will fill you in in that regard. Listen here.
Right, that’s it for this morning. There’s a brand new Arsecast Extra below if you haven’t had a chance to listen already, reacting to the 1-0 win over Villa, and all the other fun stuff which seems to make everyone else miserable. Which makes it even more fun. Enjoy!