Bukayo Saka remains a beacon of light amid the darkness at Arsenal
This time last year there was still a mystique about the teenager, who started getting regular opportunities in the otherwise dreary final months of Unai Emery’s reign and Freddie Ljungberg’s short spell as caretaker.
The Gunners went into 2020 with uncertainly but optimism with Mikel Arteta arriving to signal a different direction in the post-Wenger era.
A calendar year on, the jury remains out on the fledgeling coach but Saka is already hitting the heights fans dreamt he might. He doesn’t even turn 20 until next September, and there are potentially more heights yet to be scaled. The potential is frightening.
Ending 2020 with 15 assists, the most of any Arsenal player, it was no surprise that he offered the one real moment of quality that was enough to give his side a win at the AMEX.
Having received the ball in his own half, Saka did brilliantly to turn Dan Burn before leaving the towering left-back in his dust as he went sprinting towards the box.
The difficult part was done, but he still made the right decision to pick out Alexandre Lacazette, 21 seconds after the striker was introduced.
He had the composure to weight the pass perfectly, giving the France international enough time and space in the box to take a touch and steady himself before slotting home.
— Amazon Prime Video Sport (@primevideosport) December 29, 2020
It’s the kind of forward-minded contribution that Arsenal have been so sorely lacking as they’ve dwindled in midtable in recent weeks.
For all the talk about Mesut Ozil being left out of the squad and the failure to sign Lyon’s Houssem Aouar, Arteta just needed to look closer to home for players capable of carving openings in the final third.
Five of Arsenal’s seven chances created against Brighton were by Saka (three) and his fellow Hale End alumnus Emile Smith Rowe (two).
The fanfare over Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s new contract signing in the summer was natural and understandable, given the Gabon international’s goalscoring record and vital contributions in last season’s FA Cup win.
But getting Saka tied to a new four-year deal was the best and most important piece of business Arsenal did in 2020. Not only is he the club’s future, but he’s their present, and arguably already their most outstanding player.
This has been a tough season for Arsenal and there will be more difficult moments to come, but amid all that the fans can take solace that one of their own is tearing it up and here to stay.