Aubameyang and Saka take the 2020 Plaudits but Arteta owes them a team to be proud of again – Project Youth Please!

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Incredible form to gift his new manager his first triumph

2020 has been a year most will wish to see the back of, for obvious reasons, and at present Mikel Arteta, the Arsenal players, and fans, for more footballing ones. However, we must not forget that the elongated and disrupted 2019/20 season has offered us some highlights this calendar year. After all, the year saw Arsenal win their fourth FA Cup in seven years. A fourth major trophy in in seven years of apparent bad luck for The Gunners, in which our noisy neighbours have, of course, won nothing.

I have been asked to consider my Player of 2020, Young Player, my expectations for the remainder if the season, including in that, what will now be a success and whether the manager will be part of that.

Whilst it would be simple to dwell on his slow start to the 2020/21 season, having signed a lucrative contract extension, we must not forget Aubameyang’s remarkable contribution to the end to a disrupted campaign. The Gabon marksman took over the captaincy, served three coaches, played in at least three formations, and saw numerous partners and creators come and go, and yet he simply never stopped scoring.

His form on the run in and his part in defeating both Manchester City and Chelsea to win Arsenal the FA Cup, was the stuff of legend, which makes his current slump even more remarkable. He earned the bumper new deal he was offered and signed and surely as soon as the manager finds the correct blend Aubameyang will find his shooting boots once more. Without doubt Auba is Arsenal’s player of 2020 and we need him to rise again in 2021.

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A Breakthrough year for young Saka

Bukayo Saka began the 2019/20 campaign, in the last season of his Arsenal contract and none of us really knew whether he would be making a consistent break through into the first team. At the end of 2020, for may I suspect Saka is the first name on the team sheet, with his current maturity and leadership on the pitch in adversity, beyond his 19 years.

The Young, now full England International, like his skipper has played in multiple formations, but Saka has also had to adapt to playing varying roles. He has played on the left and right wings, at left fullback and wingback, as also in a midfield three and in each role, he has offered effort, consistency, and creativity. A creativity that saw him one of the highest teenage assist providers in Europe.

This season so far, along with Tierney and Gabriel, he is the only outfield player who can hold his head high as we approach the end of 2020. Whatever 2021 holds for Arteta’s labouring team, Bukayo in a short time has gone from exciting potential to integral to Arsenal’s fortunes. Thank goodness the club convinced him to put pen to paper on a long-term deal in the summer. He is without doubt the Arsenal Young Player of 2020 and I sincerely hope he will be our Player of the Year on many occasions on the future.

When it come to the awkward question of what success will look like for Arsenal at the end of 20/21, I feel we must be realistic, as we sit 15th in the Premier League. Of course, this question is inextricably linked to the future of Mikel Arteta. Success in the league, for a club the size of Arsenal should mean Champions League qualification and yet we are miles from this aspiration.

The young Spanish manager began so well but, in this campaign, to date has been found wanting and whilst there is no indication that the powers that be are close to losing patience, he needs to engineer a change in fortune swiftly.

In the short-term he needs to inject impetus by finding a formation that elicits the best from the resources he has at his disposal and that MUST mean selecting players on form and attributes not reputation and experience. Arteta spoke eloquently about the non-negotiables for players to pull or the Arsenal shirt but he has, for some reason, waivered from these high standards.

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His time must be now

As I suggested last week, I would like him to play Maitland- Niles in midfield while Partey is out and if he thrives, then perhaps with the Ghanaian when he returns, and Emile-Smith Rowe at 10. The older, slower players, who do not need to be named have had their chances and I hope he will give the younger players with Arsenal in their heart an opportunity.

This is turn will assist to make Arsenal look an attractive place to potential signings who will have no wish to a sign for a manager persisting with older, out for form players. They are not our future and reliance on them may cost Arteta his.

With the young square pegs in square holes, playing well I believe Arteta can still turn our fortunes, with players like Gabriel, Tierney. Partey, Aubameyang and Leno blended with the talented youth, including the exciting return of Martinelli. With one or two new additions in January and far more of the surplus sold or loaned, success in 2021 could well be a cup triumph in the Europa or FA Cup and a healthy momentum in the League.


This is the unedited version of this week’s Sun Fan Column published on Christmas Day.

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