Where are they now? Saka’s team-mates from his last Arsenal U23 game
In less than three years, England international Bukayo Saka has gone from a promising young prospect to one of Arsenal’s standout performers.
Saka made his last appearance for Arsenal’s Under-23s in August 2019, starting in a 2-2 draw against Everton in the Premier League 2.
We’ve taken a look at the Arsenal Xl from that game to see how they’ve all fared since.
GK: Karl Hein
Despite being a boyhood Manchester United fan, Hein rejected the Red Devils and joined Arsenal from FC Nomme United in the summer of 2018.
“I went to every club to show myself. I was at United for three days, in other clubs for a little longer,” Hein told the Estonian FA in 2020.
“The first impression might have been deceptive, but it seemed to me that discipline and the organisational side, as well as other details, were at a higher level at Arsenal.
“In Manchester, for example, the transport was always late, which is why I was late for training. The reception at Arsenal was very friendly and the club left a very good impression, because, let’s be honest, there was no difference in terms of level because both Arsenal and United are among the top in the world.”
Bar a few Europa League bench-sitting duties, he has spent most of his time with the Under-23s and is currently behind Aaron Ramsdale and Matt Turner in the pecking order. Last season he spent the latter half of the season out on loan at Reading and made his long-awaited Gunners debut in the League Cup defeat to Brighton last month.
The 20-year-old is already a full Estonia international with 16 caps to his name after making his debut in the UEFA Nations League game against Georgia in September 2020. The new Mart Poom, as we like to call him.
READ: Mart Poom: Man Utd wanted me, but I loved Derby; Arsenal move an ‘honour’
RB: Zak Swanson (Joseph Olowu, ’71)
Swanson joined Arsenal at the age of six and progressed through the ranks before establishing himself as a key player for the Under-23s in 2019-20.
The right-back subsequently went out on loan to Dutch side MVV Maastricht. After making his debut in a 7-1 defeat against SC Cambuur, he made just two more appearances for the club and was recalled by Arsenal in December 2020. He never made a first-team appearance and joined Portsmouth for an undisclosed fee in the summer.
Olowu, meanwhile, is currently turning out in League Two with Doncaster Rovers.
CB: Rob Holding
Having suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in December 2018, Holding spent some time with the Under-23s to regain match fitness.
The centre-back looked set to join Newcastle United on loan ahead of the 2020-21 season but the move was blocked by Mikel Arteta.
He’s since enjoyed a revival at Arsenal and was rewarded with a new long-term contract in January 2021 after becoming a mainstay in Arteta’s side.
Holding is no longer first choice at the Emirates but remains a useful squad member for the surprise title challengers.
CB: Harry Clarke
Signed from Ipswich Town’s academy in 2015, Clarke racked up 15 appearances for Arsenal’s Under-23s in the Premier League 2 in 2019-20. He then got his first taste of senior football out on loan at Oldham.
“Harry has been an instant success since coming in at the start of the season,” former Oldham manager Harry Kewell told their official website in January 2021.
“For a young man he’s a very talented individual and I’m sure the supporters have enjoyed seeing the impact he has made in the heart of defence already.”
Clarke has since gained further experience on loan at Ross County and Hibernian. He remains on Arsenal’s books and is currently out at Stoke City.
LB: Tolaji Bola
A local lad, Bola was on the bench for Arsenal’s 5-0 win against Nottingham Forest in September 2019 but never made his senior Gunners bow.
The 23-year-old made 12 appearances during his loan spell at League One side Rochdale before returning to Arsenal’s Under-23s in January 2021. He was sold to Rotherham United that summer and is now on the fringes of the Millers’ squad.
CM: Robbie Burton
Despite being appointed captain of Arsenal-Under 23s, Burton couldn’t see a path into their first team and joined Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb in February 2020.
“It was a risk to move here,” Burton told the Sun in March 2021. “I felt I was ready for first-team football and I’d got to an age where I needed that experience.
“The history of Dinamo bringing through top young players like [Luka] Modric has always been excellent. The way they brought through world-class midfielders attracted me. So many Croatia internationals came through here. It’s a great place to be as a young player.”
The 21-year-old initially started in the reserves but has since made a handful of appearances and was on the bench for their Europa League win over Tottenham in 2021. Burton remains on Dinamo’s books but is currently out on loan at League Of Ireland side Sligo Rovers.
London is red 🔴 Croatia is 🔵 pic.twitter.com/wRGPedRlGx
— Robbie Burton (@RBurton26) March 18, 2021
CM: Emile Smith Rowe (Jordan McEneff, ’77)
After returning from his loan spell at RB Leipzig, Smith Rowe made two Premier League appearances under Freddie Ljungberg and then went back out on loan in January 2020.
The ‘Croydon De Bruyne’ was finally afforded a run of games in the Arsenal first team in December 2020 and hasn’t looked back since, helping fill the creative void left by Mesut Ozil.
Despite enduring an injury-plagued 2020-21 season with Arsenal’s Under-23s, McEneff still extended his contract with the club. But he never broke through, and is now back in Ireland with his hometown club Derry City.
CM: Trae Coyle
Having spent his entire career in Arsenal’s academy, Coyle decided to join League One side Gillingham on a season-long loan in 2020.
The 21-year-old scored four goals in 21 appearances for the Gills, including a volley against Arsenal’s Under-21s in the EFL Trophy. But he struggled to hold down a place in the starting line-up and was recalled by the Gunners in January 2021.
Coyle left Arsenal for Swiss club Lausanne-Sport in the summer of 2021 and has made 50 appearances for them.
FWR: Tyreece John-Jules
“He can do everything,” Arteta said in January 2020. “He links really well on the ball every time he’s out of the number nine position. He’s got a really good ability to do that.
“He reads situations earlier than others and he’s a good finisher as well. Physically he’s developed in a really good shape. I think he’s a very complete player.”
The forward is yet to make his debut for his boyhood club but remains on their books. Cat from Red Drawf‘s nephew is currently on his fifth loan away – he’s scored three goals in 17 League One appearances for Ipswich Town this season.
FWL: Bukayo Saka (Nathan Tormey, ’64)
Saka enjoyed a brilliant breakthrough campaign in 2019-20, becoming the first teenager to hit double figures for assists in a single season for Arsenal since Cesc Fabregas in 2006-07.
The versatile winger has been a consistent bright spot for the Gunners in recent times and is now one of England’s star men. He finished last season as the Gunners’ top scorer and is at the centre of everything good Mikel Arteta is building at the Emirates.
Tormey turned down a new contract offer from Arsenal and is currently without a club.
Bukayo Saka. You beauty 😍
The 21-year-old just casually doing this at a World Cup!
England 4-0 Iran
💻🖥📱 Watch on @BBCiPlayer, listen on @BBCSounds, get more on the @BBCSport app#BBCFootball #BBCWorldCup pic.twitter.com/XMDz06vaiV
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) November 21, 2022
ST: Folarin Balogun
The striker has caught the eye over the past few years in the youth ranks. He’s struggled to quite nail down a spot in Mikel Artea’s first-team plans but is now showing what he can do out on loan at Reims, with eight goals in 13 appearances in Ligue 1 this season.
Every chance he does a Saliba and comes back from France ready to make a big impact.
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