As featured on NewsNow: Football news

No longer the Arsenal of Samir Nasri: Why Bukayo Saka's new contract so important

COMMENT: In terms of timing, it couldn't have been better. Bring it forward. Lift the support. Lift the club. Announcing Bukayo Saka's new contract was just the tonic Arsenal needed this week...

The agreement had been there for over a month. It just needed Saka's signature. And there was an understanding on both sides of the table that it should be announced at the end of the season.

But Saturday at the City Ground changed things. Defeat at Nottingham Forest not just the latest unexpected setback in this spiraling second-half of the season - it also confirmed Manchester City as champions. The City result was expected. The Forest one, not so much. But after so many stumbles since February, there was a limp, almost feeble, inevitably about it all.

But as the inquest was just getting into it's groove, management found a way to shift momentum. As we say, for a floored support. For those in and around the club at a loss to explain this collapse. Announcing Saka's new four-year commitment was just the tonic Arsenal needed.

It was the actions of a proper football club. Of proper football people. It could've waited seven days. It could've waited until the campaign had been concluded. But as City's players celebrated. As the Gunners support watched on. Silently. Arsenal and Saka managed to give the fans some hope. The commitment was one thing. Saka's words were something else altogether. The England attacker laid out why he was staying.

“I have seen a lot of change [over the years]," said Saka. "Obviously speaking about this season, it hurts a lot.

“It really hurts so much to even think about how we've ended this season and what could have been. But one thing I can say is, since the last two or three years that I've been playing, I've seen this team and the club grow.

“Time is on our side. You can look at our team and a lot of the players are young. We're hungry, and a lot of us haven't won trophies at Arsenal so we want to achieve big things. If you watch the way we all speak, we want to win and we want to win here."

This isn't the Arsenal of Arsene Wenger's final years. This isn't the one that saw Kolo Toure, Samir Nasri, Bacary Sagna, Gael Clichy and Emmanuel Adebayor leave for City. This is Mikel Arteta's Arsenal. Edu's Arsenal. An Arsenal where the players believe they can have their ambitions fulfilled. Saka just the latest of this young team to commit his next years to the club. Aaron Ramsdale. Gabriel Martinelli. Gabriel Magalhaes... they've all put pen to paper. Where in the past such talent would've been tempted elsewhere, they're now happy to stay where they are. There is a definite shift in the culture inside London Colney.

Champions League qualification, of course, helps. But that's just a by-product of the changing attitude of Arsenal. It's still early doors. Even Arteta admits that. But you fancy the club is back to becoming a final destination. And not a stepping stone to bigger things.

This Saka deal is proof of that. A show of faith in what management - and he and his teammates - are building towards. With William Saliba and Martin Odegaard the next on the rank waiting to finalise new terms, seeing Saka ink his contract cannot be underestimated.

“I spent three seasons at Arsenal without any title," recalled Nasri when justifying his decision to quit the Gunners for City back in 2014. "Then at the end of the season we sold our best player that was Cesc Fabregas.

“I preferred to join City and I won titles and indeed I earned a better living."

The "titles" for today's Arsenal are still to be achieved. But for Cesc Fabregas, you can arguably nominate Saka as today's equivalent. But where the Spaniard left to return home to Barcelona, Saka has chosen to stay. And while belief and ambition will have been the driving forces in his decision, Arsenal's willingness to meet his demands will also have been a factor. Again, unlike the days of Nasri, no frontline Arsenal player will be leaving over contract terms.

In the aftermath of Forest. With all the hand-wringing and finger-pointing from outside. This is a win for Arsenal. Today's Arsenal. The club is down. There's no hiding from that. But the commitment of Saka. His words and reasons for that commitment. It all symbolises a major change in Arsenal.

As Saka said, "...we want to win and we want to win here". The days of Nasri and Cesc really are a thing of the past.

Video of the day:

Chris Beattie
About the author

Chris Beattie

Have your say

Subscribe and go ad-free

For only $10 a year

  1. Go Ad-Free
  2. Faster site experience
  3. Support great writing
  4. Subscribe now
Launch Offer: 2 months free

Subscribe and go ad-free

For only $10 a year

Subscribe now
Launch Offer: 2 months free