Where to start with these two?
It seems like Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli have been around forever now and yet they’re still both only 21 years old. We’ve all witnessed their come up, their low points and their high points but who could have predicted what they would turn into at such a young age? I can’t remember the last time seeing a big club like Arsenal fielding two 21-year-olds on the flanks and for them to be their key players.
Worth 90 million and 60 million euros respectively in today’s market (Transfermarkt.com), Arsenal spent a total of 7 million euros and that was only to bring one of them in while the other is a well-known Hale End academy graduate.
THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE
Both of them are tailor-made for their roles under Arteta now, but it did take time. Martinelli’s real big jump in the position has just only come this season while Saka has been a regular from the get-go but still not a mainstay at right wing up until last season. Arteta shuffled Saka as a left wingback/left winger hybrid and an interior at the start and progressively moved him into the right-wing spot, which he eventually made his own – forcing the club’s hand to move on their biggest-ever transfer, Nicolas Pepe.
Dribbling, intensity on both ends of the pitch, end product and most importantly, no ego.
What Arsenal have on the wings is unique. Direct and dangerous, you’re unlikely to contain both fully for ninety minutes. They come at you with pace and power and rarely waste attacks. Furthermore, both have the ability to go either way of their marker and judge when to push and when to retain the ball really well. They attack with purpose and intent.
While Saka leans more into a winger with midfielder like tendencies at times, Martinelli’s instincts and natural feel for central movement (especially when he rotates with Jesus) give you more striker like vibes. You’ll of course get games where they can lack a bit of experience but that will come with time, we’re just getting started.
But this season is where it all clicked into place. Both had a spike in their goal output last season already with 11 Goals, 7 Assists and 6 Goals, 6 Assists to their names but they’re on course for an even better return this year it seems. Continuous progression is what it’s all about with these two and improving in front of goal is just one part of it. Both improved their games massively from when they broke through and are now among the top wingers in the league.
They’ve both been rewarded with national team call-ups for this World Cup, and they’ve impressed at every opportunity given with Saka scoring 3 goals for England so far and Martinelli making things happen anytime he gets a chance off the bench. He grabbed a start versus Cameroon the other day in an unfortunate 1-0 loss but made headlines for being probably the best Brazilian player on the pitch, constantly getting into chances.
THE CEILING IS SKY HIGH
I always think of the fear factor Mane-Salah pairing instilled in the opposition and both are going in the same direction. 21 years old and they already have four seasons of Premier League football under their belts. Not to mention how hard it is to find a wing pairing like this in today’s market. Arsenal have to do everything they can to extend them and they’re in a very good position to do so.
Arteta has shown his ability to nurture young talent and they couldn’t be in a better environment to keep progressing. This isn’t just about Arteta either, they’re surrounded by strong characters such as Granit Xhaka, Kieran Tierney and co. who help them as much as their coaching staff around them. Plenty of evidence for it so far on the pitch but I always remember Arteta answering this to reporters questioning Saka starting games in the Europa League:
“If you want to be at the top, you have to be able to do that. And if we start to put something different in the mind of a young player, I think we are making a huge mistake because then [he would] be like ‘no, I don’t play now, on astroturf I don’t play.’
“I don’t want that. I want them to be ruthless every three days. I want them knocking on my door [saying] ‘I want to play, I want to win the game.”
That type of mentality is what got Arsenal into the place they’re in currently and I’m positive it’s going to stay like that for many years to come. For the way Arsenal want to play, keeping both of them on the ground and hungry is crucial.
There’s a lot more to come from them and they’re in a great position to keep pushing their limits. Imagine the scenes if Arsenal actually pulls it off this season with 20-something year olds at the helm (youngest team in the league), it’s just going to be a testament of the quality work and the foundations being put in place by Arteta and the backroom staff finally paying off. Arsenal fans have every right to enjoy the moment.