In completely unexpected news, Bukayo Saka was named Arsenal’s player of the season yesterday.
It’s the second successive year he’s won it, only Thierry Henry, Ian Wright and Liam Brady have done that before. Not bad company to be keeping when you’re 20 years of age, eh? He got 58% of the vote, which makes it a bit of a landslide, and with 12 goals and 7 assists last season, you can see why he topped the charts.
It would have been an interesting one if Emile Smith Rowe had been more available in the second half of the season and added some goals and assists to his tally. He ended up with 11 goals in all competitions, but 9 of those came before Christmas, and after his goal against Norwich on December 26th, he started just 8 times and scored just twice. Had he been fully fit, I think he would have ended up closer to the 15 goal mark at least, and that might have given Bukayo a run for his money.
Nevertheless, what a healthy situation that is to have these two Academy graduates producing those kind of numbers for us. We’re all looking to transfer market to see how we can improve next season, and that’s completely understandable because there are some gaps in the squad that absolutely have to be filled if we’re to make the kind of progress required for a higher final finish in the Premier League.
However, I don’t think we should ignore the fact we have young players who were given a relatively heavy burden this season and who stepped up while other more senior players didn’t come close to giving us what was expected. Let’s look back at last season and the goal & assist tallies.
Emile Smith Rowe had 4 goals and 7 assists in 2020/21 versus 11 and 2 last season, while Saka went from 7 goals and 10 assists to 12 goals and 7 assists. It’s 11 goal involvements to 13 for ESR and 17 to 19 for Saka, so maybe it doesn’t look quite as impressive when you lay it out like that, but remember this was a season when most of that productivity took place in the Premier League. There was no ‘stat padding’ in the group stages of the Europa League or anything like that.
So, while we have a very busy summer ahead in terms of transfers in and out, there are a couple of other key issues we need to sort out. First, focus on Smith Rowe’s fitness/durability. I think he’s had some issues having been thrust into regular first team action back in December 2020, at a time when he was still maturing and developing physically. He has spoken about taking better care of himself, eating better and understanding that aspect of the job, but ensuring he’s in peak condition is one of the challenges for our fitness/coaching staff next season. It’s worth thinking about how the five subs rule might well be beneficial in that regard.
The second one is obvious: Bukayo Saka’s contract. Yes, he still has two years remaining, but if he has another season like last time, and heads towards the final 12 months of his deal, we’re entering territory we really don’t want to be in. I do think the fact that he’s still only 20, and obviously loves the club/fanbase, should mean we can swing it for this contract.
He could sign on with us until 2026 and still be just 24 when that deal ends. As he enters his prime years, he’d have everything laid out perfectly in front of him. If he feels he can achieve his footballing ambitions with us then it’s easy to stay; if we’re not where we want to be and player of his talent and potential needs to move elsewhere, it’s not difficult to facilitate that. He’s not going to do something as stupid as sign a six year deal making it nigh on impossible to move (what kind of moron would do that anyway?!).
The ball is very much in Arsenal’s court, but it should be a straightforward lob back over the net. A contract that acknowledges the contribution he’s made and is likely to make in the future, his status as two-time player of the season, his standing with the fans and in the game in general, and his importance to this team right now. We’ve freed up a lot from the wage bill in recent times, and while money won’t be the sole factor by any means, the resources should be there to get this one over the line.
A final point, I think we need to add players like Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard to the improvement discussion too. They can certainly do more next time around, and assuming we add that bit of quality and experience via the transfer market, there’s a potency to our attacking options next season that is really quite exciting.
Right, let’s leave it there for this morning. Over on Patreon we have an episode of Waffle, in which James and I talk about anything and everything except Arsenal, you can check that out here.
We’ll have any breaking news over on Arseblog News, if such a thing exists today, more here tomorrow as well as a brand new Arsecast.