Unai Emery has reaffirmed his commitment to giving Arsenal’s academy graduates a chance to play first team football and believes his latest debutant Bukayo Saka can have a long career at the Emirates.
The 17-year-old made his Premier League bow in the final minutes of the 4-1 win over Fulham, becoming in the process the first player born in the year 2001 to feature in England’s top flight.
While the winger didn’t actually touch the ball on Tuesday, he’s shown enough promise at Premier League 2 level and in a couple of Europa League cameos to hint at a bright future.
Ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup third round match at Blackpool – a match Saka is likely to be involved in – Emery spoke warmly of the teenager’s prospects.
“I am using different players because of injuries, but it is important for us to give chances to the young players,” the boss told Arsenal.com.
“The young players, like Saka, he has debuted in his last match and he was playing because at the moment we haven’t a lot of players who have the possibility to play wide right or wide left.
“Saka is in the academy, growing up with good performances. It is the beginning, I hope, of a long career here in Arsenal.
“He is improving a lot and, although he is very young, he is training with us and understanding our tactics with the other players. He is coming with us on a lot of matches and living our moments with the team.
“Now he starts to play in the games and also in the Premier League. He is going to have a career but we need to help him also with a strategy for this.
“We have other players the same – Emile, Willock, Nketiah – we need to give them chances while thinking about a good performance with a good combination [in the team]. On Saturday I am going to think like that.”
Obviously, now that we’re into January the prospect of loaning out more youngsters comes into sharper focus. It’s a testament to the talent of the aforementioned quartet (and our injury situation) that it’s more tempting to keep them at the club rather than pack them off elsewhere to gain experience.