Why Champions League holds the key for Mikel Arteta to keep Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe at Emirates.
Arsenal’s bright young talents are integral to the club’s future success but finishing in the top-four is a must if the club wants to keep them long-term
Arsenal have a history of being unable to keep hold of their star players – from Ashley Cole to Cesc Fabregas to Robin van Persie.
However, with a new generation of talent flourishing in north London, the Gunners must avoid repeating the mistakes of their recent past if they are to continue their progression.
Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have elevated Mikel Arteta’s squad to top-four hopefuls, becoming the first duo under the age of 21 to score 10 Premier League goals each in a season since Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney did so in 2006-07.
Achieving a top-four finish is in Arsenal’s hands with teams around them struggling to find consistency.
Why Champions League for Arsenal
Playing on Europe’s biggest stage strengthens a club’s magnetic pull towards top-class players but for Arsenal, it would also help to secure the futures of several promising talents including Saka, Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard.
“You’ve seen how much of a team we’ve been,” said Saka when asked about his stellar performances on MOTDx.
“I think that’s probably been the spark. That hunger we have to work for each other. Everyone’s young and just wants to give their all to Arsenal.”
He may be committed to the process but with his contract expiring in 2024 will he be content with Arsenal’s position if they are not competing for major honours soon.
The same applies to Smith Rowe whose deal runs until 2026.
Technical director Edu Gaspar is reportedly ready to offer the 20-year-old a contract extension to reflect his importance to the squad.
Saka has played in every league game this season racking up 16 goal contributions (11 goals, five assists), demonstrating how much Arsenal depend upon him already.
A reliance similar to van Persie who “didn’t feel like we [Arsenal] were on the level to compete.”
Fabregas also made his frustration about the Gunners public in an interview with Rio Ferdinand.
“In important moments I felt so frustrated to see big teams always winning and always having that edge,” he said. “I was hungry, I wanted to win, I was a competitor, I would have done anything to win for Arsenal and I felt it wasn’t coming.
“We had opportunities to sign good players that I felt would make such a difference and for one thing or another they looked away.”
Qualifying for Europe’s top-tier competition represents Arsenal’s best chance of keeping their star duo happy.