Bukayo Saka is vital to the next phase of Arteta’s project. Tying him down to a four-year contract sends out the right message about their ambition to catch — and topple — Manchester City after the disappointment of missing out on the title this season.
Saka was entering the final year of his contract and had he not agreed a new deal then it would have left Arsenal in an awkward situation this summer. City and a host of top European clubs have been monitoring his situation, but the prospect of the 21-year-old leaving was unthinkable.
His new deal, which is worth up to £300,000-a-week and makes him the best-paid player at the club, is a real show of intent from Arsenal as they bid to challenge again next season. The Gunners have already tied down Gabriel Martinelli, Aaron Ramsdale and Gabriel Magalhaes to new deals as they seek to secure the futures of the players who took them so close to the title.
But Saka is the jewel in their crown and his contract sends a strong message to both their rivals and summer transfer targets about their desire to return to the top of English football. Talks with the England star over a new contract have been taking place in the background throughout this season and a verbal agreement reached in February.
The terms reflect his status as one of the best players in the Premier League and underline the faith Arsenal and Arteta have in him.
Saka has made huge strides this season for both club and country. He shone at the World Cup for England and has starred for Arsenal, weighing in with 14 goals and 11 assists.
No other players in the squad has been involved in more goals. As if he is aware of his new role as a leader, Saka has begun replicating club legend Thierry Henry with his celebrations.
The challenge for Saka now is to take his game to the next level. He has improved his productivity in front of goal every year and Arsenal believe he can score 20 to 25 a season. Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah has set the bar for wide players with those type of numbers, but Saka has the ability to reach that in the future.
The Arsenal team is set up for him to continue to thrive. Gabriel Jesus leads the line and, like Roberto Firmino did in his pomp at Liverpool, he creates space for wide players to thrive.
Saka is the jewel in Arsenal’s crown and his contract sends a strong message to both their rivals and summer transfer targets
Becoming the highest-paid player at the club will increase the pressure on Saka, but those close to the winger insist he can handle it.
He has already overcome so much in his career and he relishes challenges. Indeed, after missing the crucial penalty for England in the Euro 2020 Final, he returned to Arsenal and asked Arteta if he could take spot-kicks for the club. Even after missing a vital penalty at West Ham last month, Saka is undeterred and remains first-choice taker. The pain has only galvanised him more.
Arteta is well aware of Saka’s mindset and it is why he often tries to get the best out of him with tough love. He pushes the winger relentlessly and asks for so much because he believes Saka can genuinely go on to become one of the best players in the world.
A key part of Arsenal’s project is retaining their best young players. The Gunners are in talks to tie down William Saliba and are ready to start contract discussions with captain Martin Odegaard. Securing the future of Saka was imperative to their chances of downing City.
He has been at Arsenal since he was eight and is universally loved by everyone at the club. Comparisons have been made between Saka and David Rocastle. Saka is well aware of Rocastle’s legacy and when he took the No7 shirt he read up on the Arsenal legend.
Saka still has some way to go reach the status of Rocastle, but he has already laid the foundations to become a hero at his boyhood club. The next four years promise to be an exciting stage of his career as he enters his peak.
Insiders at Arsenal have noticed how Saka has found his voice, becoming more of a leader in the dressing room. His dream has always been to play in the Champions League and fight for big trophies, and now the stage is set for him to realise that ambition.