Unai Emery has recalled an anecdote about Bukayo Saka which speaks volumes about the remarkable rise of Arsenal’s next big star.
The 19-year-old was brought into the first team fold at Arsenal by former boss Emery, who handed him his senior debut in a Europa League clash against Ukrainian minnows Vorskla Poltava, before later making his Premier League bow.
Since then Saka has come on leaps and bounds to become a permanent fixture in Arsenal’s starting XI, and current manager Mikel Arteta can barely afford to leave him out.
This season alone he has provided seven goals and six assists in all competitions and looks a shoe-in for the club’s Player of the Year award.
And Emery has been just as impressed with his former charge as he reflected on a time when Saka was not quite such a prominent figure in the team.
“There are a lot of players that are still there, players who started their careers with me as their coach,” Emery said, via UEFA’s official website.
“I always tell this little anecdote about Bukayo Saka. He made his [Premier League] debut against Fulham, which I remember we won 4-1.
“I think it kicked off at 12:30, and he played the last eight to ten minutes and didn’t touch the ball. Now he’s establishing himself at a high level.”
Saka and Arsenal will be keen to get one over on their old boss when they travel to Villarreal on Thursday for the first leg of their Europa League semi-final clash, but know they are up against a master in the competition.
No manager has won the Europa League more times than Emery, who triumphed three times successively with Sevilla and reached the final with Arsenal during his ill-fated tenure, only to lose in the final to Chelsea.
Arsenal can hardly be considered to have progressed since his departure either, as they currently occupy a mid-table position in the Premier League and are at risk of failing to qualify for Europe again next season.
But despite their struggles, Emery has no hard feelings about his sacking by Arsenal and feels they may the perfect couple with Arteta at the helm.
“Arteta is putting his own stamp on things – in the way they play, it’s easy to identify he’s bringing back that Arsenal tradition of playing attractive football,” the 49-year-old added.
“He had his time [playing] there with Arsene Wenger so I’m sure he can apply everything he learned. I think it’s a good marriage: Arteta-Arsenal, Arsenal-Arteta.”