The reward for good work is more work, but it seems there is more to the reward for good work for Arsenal’s youngster, Bukayo Saka, as he has been handed not just a new improved long term deal but also a new number. The youngster who would be finishing the current campaign wearing the number 77 of the Gunners, would be going into the new season wearing not just any number but the iconic no 7 jersey.
Saka takes over the number that was last worn by the former Armenian winger Henrikh Mhiktaryan. The former Dortmund man has since left Arsenal on loan to Italian outfit Roma and looks set to extend his stay at the capital club.
He would not be the first in the line of youngsters to take on iconic numbers; Cesc Fabregas took Viera’s number 4, Theo Walcott took Henry’s number 14.
For Saka, it is definitely another huge step in his career that has taken a meteoric rise since he was handed his senior debut by former manager, Unai Emery in 2018. Since then, he has come a long way. His versatility has been further explored by incumbent manager, Mikel Arteta as he has been deployed as left back, left winger and right winger.
Last season, Saka was just a youngster, talented but untested and definitely could not be trusted. It explains why he could only manage just 8 appearances in all competitions, registering a goal and 2 assists but this season, he has been tested many times and have earned the trust of his manager. Definitely, he has come in leaps and bounds, enjoyed more game time, having secured 39 appearances in all competitions, registering 4 goals and 11 assists. Huge progress that is. Hence, not surprising that his contract impasse scared the Gunners.
With the responsibilities manager, Mikel Arteta has bestowed on him, it seems he is an integral part of the team going forward. That is not a surprise considering his versatility, been a long while since there was a player at Arsenal that could play varied roles so comfortably; left back, left wing, right wing and hole behind the striker. He is definitely a weapon any General would be happy to go to war with.
Jersey numbers are more than mere identification tags on a player’s shirt. Some numbers carry “unknown” ill luck, while some carries huge weight no thanks to the giant heights previous players have reached wearing them.
The iconic number 7 comes with its own unique pressure as many greats have worn it; David Rocastle, David Platt and more recently, Robert Pires, Thomas Rosicky and Alexis Sanchez. Those are definitely huge boots to fill, but if there is one “boy” that could feel them, he is Bukayo Saka. At just 19, he has the world at his feet with his deft touches, versatility , dribbling skills and the supportive arms of Arteta around him.
He would not be the first in the line of youngsters to take on iconic numbers; Cesc Fabregas took Viera’s number 4, Theo Walcott took Henry’s number 14. If Saka continues to work hard and take his chances, the burden of the number might just be a lightweight on his young shoulders.
From the recent list of those that wore the number, he seems similar to Frenchman, Robert Pires. The Frenchman was one of the most flamboyant wingers to have played for Arsenal with his deft touches, dribbling skills, outrageous finishing and eye for goal. Should Saka model his game after him, he might just become not just an Arsenal legend but one of the best in the Premier League.