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Bukayo Saka was a ‘model student’ who has become one of Arsenal’s most important player

Unai Emery did little to win the adulation of fans during his brief tenure in north London.

His role in blooding Bukayo Saka into the fold, however, will earn him eternal gratitude from the Emirates faithful.

Saka has been a shining light in what has been a miserable few years for the Gunners.

The 19-year-old was completing his GCSE’s just three years ago. Now, he’s a fully-fledged England international and probably Arsenal’s most important player.

On Sunday, the ever-impressive teenager delivered another vintage performance as he tore Leeds to shreds in the 4-2 home victory.

His darting runs, energy and pace wreaked havoc on the Whites’ defence in what was electric display that will have surely given England manager Gareth Southgate another timely reminder of his quality.

Arsenal fans have Emery to thank for Saka’s incredible rise to stardom
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He earned a penalty for his side in the first-half, but should have had two if it wasn’t for a contentious VAR review.

Saka’s potential is frightening, but his rapid progression to the top of football is no coincidence.

Whether he’s a left-back, right-back or even in midfield, Saka is one of the few Premier League players who can excel in half a dozen positions and scarcely delivers a poor display.

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It would be lazy, however, to pick out Saka’s versatility as his standout quality

He boasts some of the best stats of any youngster in the Premier League – and by some distance.

Saka boasts incredible stats for a teenager
He tops the lists for the most goal contributions (7), most goals scored (5) chances created (26) and completed dribbles (32) of any teenager in the division.

He’s so far above his teenage peers that you have to compare him to older players to gauge just how good he has been.

Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden have created the same amount of chances as him, and only a handful of older players in the 20-24 age bracket – such as Trent Alexander-Arnold (35 created) and James Maddison (42) – have been more creative this season.

Saka is of Nigerian descent and made the difficult decision to choose England over when called up for his debut against Wales last year.

Saka has created as many chances as Rashford this season (26) despite being four years younger
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His continued good form, however, is putting him in real contention for a spot in the Three Lions’ Euro 2021 23-man squad.

Competition for a spot is as fierce as ever. The full-back positions are rife with experienced players, while there is currently a huge tussle for the attacking midfield spots with Jack Grealish, Maddison, Mason Mount and Foden all excelling for their respective clubs.

Former England striker Gary Lineker, though, believes Saka has a ‘massive advantage’ in forcing his way into Southgate’s squad.

“He’s got versatility to his game which will certainly help him but you have to remember in the wide areas we’ve got a phenomenal amount of talent,” he told talkSPORT.

Saka found himself in the starting line-up for Arsenal at Man United – ten years after sitting in the away end with his dad at Old Trafford as fans
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“He can play anywhere which will be a massive advantage to him and he’s been brilliant but if you look at who we’ve got: Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Callum Hudson-Odoi. The list goes on.
“There’s a lot of competition but his performances have been brilliant, particularly as Arsenal have struggled in many ways.

“For a youngster to stand up under those circumstances is a really good sign.
“When they start playing really well it will work for everyone and he’s got so much maturity to his game and a brilliant amount of maturity.

“[His versatility] is a massive advantage for him as a manager can’t three players that play wide right and three players that play wide left, but if one of those players can play on right wing or left wing, or right back or left back. It will give them a real edge.

“He’s still very young and you have to take that into consideration – but if you’re good enough, you’re old enough and Gareth is pretty blessed right now.

Of the children who enter academies at the age of nine, less than one per cent will make it as a professional footballer at any level.

It is said just 180 children of the 1.5 million who play organised youth football at any one time will go onto play in the Premier League.

The reason Saka made it isn’t just down of his talent, though, It’s because he’s every manager’s dream.

He is a model student on and off the pitch and his former PE teacher Mark Harvey knew his student’s humble and hard-working nature at Greenford High School was destined to take him to the top.

“He was quite a role model student to be honest with you,” Harvey explained to talkSPORT about his former student, who he still regularly contacts on WhatsApp.

“He was a role model student and academically sound across the board. He was very, very good at PE, a naturally talented sportsman.

“No matter what sport he played he’d always be very good at it. He had quite a small social group of friends, a close nit group of boys who are all still close now. But he was really pleasant student who was perceived well by his staff.

“Every single day you saw Bukayo, you saw he was active in some way shape or form.”

Harvey (right of Saka) taught the Arsenal youngster PE for many years at Greenford High School
Saka left Greenford High School in the summer of 2018 with an exceptional four A*s and three As in his GSCEs, despite having to balance his career in football with his academic life.

His unflinching desire to win and unassuming nature is perhaps best encapsulated by two anecdotes explained by Harvey during his years at school.

“He was in year seven or year eight and his side got to into the borough final. Bukayo was only around 11 or 12 at the time,” he said.

“They played well but they lost the game 4-2 and Bukayo came off and looked at [his football coach] Mr Patel and said: “I’m never going to play football again!”

“Mr Patel just happened to be a Tottenham fan so you can imagine the banter that that brought about!”

Harvey added: “Another important one to mention came about two-and-a-half years ago.

“Our head teacher, who had a really good relationship with him at the time and was a massive fan, invited him to open a new building and he came down with his dad for a good hour-and-a-half, two hours and took photos with everyone.

“It was a really nice touch. He didn’t have to at all as he’d already left the school and it was all by his own good will.”

Saka has been in Arsenal’s ranks since he was a young boy
Instagram @bukayosaka87
Saka lifted the first trophy of his career last year under Arteta
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His family are football-obsessed and it was actually his Newcastle-mad dad taking him to Old Trafford as a seven-year-old that ignited his aspirations to become a professional.

At just 18 years and 125 days old, he became the youngest player to start a match between the two sides in the Premier League.

“I was standing on the pitch at Old Trafford before the game,” Saka told the Daily Star last February.

“It was just my second-ever start in the Premier League – and it finally hit me: I’m in the Arsenal first team.
“I had been here 10 years earlier with my dad, sitting in the away end with the Newcastle fans.

Some of Arsenal’s goals this season have come straight out of the Hale End academy which has seen Saka and Emile Smith Rowe graduate
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“My dad has always been a big football fan, he supported Newcastle because he loved Alan Shearer.
“I hadn’t been to many stadiums at all, so it was a big moment for me, as an eight-year-old, to go to a game.
“But now here I was as a player.
“Being down on the pitch, looking up at the fans in the stands, it really hit me. I realised what was starting to happen.”
Saka is just 19 years old but the maturity he has shown beyond his years is frightening.

And in what is perhaps the biggest compliment paid to starlet yet, Arsenal ‘Invincible’ Ray Parlour said Saka could earn himself a statue outside the Emirates if he stays at the club in the years to come to sit alongside Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Herbert Chapman.

“For me he could be the next statue that goes up,” Parlour told talkSPORT last month.

“If he has a wonderful career at Arsenal, then he could be waiting for a statue.”

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