Bukayo Saka signs new Arsenal contract to end doubts over future

Nick Ames
The Guardian
<span>Photograph: Jon Super for The FA/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Jon Super for The FA/Shutterstock

Bukayo Saka has signed a new long-term contract at Arsenal, ending speculation about the 18-year-old’s future and meaning one of the club’s shining lights from a turbulent season will continue his career in north London.

Tying Saka down had been a priority for Arsenal, with his previous deal running out next year and leaving them vulnerable to the advances of admirers at home and abroad. He has been in sensational form since cementing a first-team place under Unai Emery and then Mikel Arteta, showing his versatility in a number of positions on the left and standing out as one of the country’s leading prospects in his age group.

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It is also an important statement that Arsenal, for whom Saka has played in various age groups since he was seven, can keep hold of their best academy products amid a difficult financial climate and uncertainty over their squad-building prospects.

Arteta had expressed confidence last week that the situation would be resolved imminently. Speaking about Saka’s new deal after its announcement, he said: “Bukayo is a talented and intelligent young player. He has impressed me with his work ethic and attitude to learn and adapt, and it has paid off in his performances. I am excited to continue working with him to develop him further, and for him to help us achieve our goals.”

The news came after it emerged Arsenal are at loggerheads with Saint-Étienne over another of their most exciting young talents. The the Ligue 1 club said they had imposed “absolutely unacceptable sports and financial conditions” in negotiations to extend the loan of William Saliba.

The centre-back has spent the season with Saint-Étienne, from whom Arsenal signed him last July. The loan ended on Tuesday but the clubs had been looking to extend it so Saliba could play in the Coupe de France final against Paris Saint-Germain on 24 July. Arteta had indicated on Tuesday that Saliba would stay in France but a statement from Saint-Étienne several hours later said negotiations had collapsed.

“[Saint-Étienne], which simply wanted the extension of the initial loan until 24 July, could not find an agreement in the evening with Arsenal to allow the defender to properly prepare for and play this match, the English club imposing absolutely unacceptable sports and financial conditions.”

<span class="element-image__caption">William Saliba (left) in action for Saint-Étienne against Marseille in February.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Emmanuel Foudrot/Reuters</span>
William Saliba (left) in action for Saint-Étienne against Marseille in February. Photograph: Emmanuel Foudrot/Reuters

Arsenal responded on Wednesday with a statement that addressed those claims, explaining they had wanted the player to follow a specific training programme. The 19-year-old, who played only 12 games in the aborted Ligue 1 season after missing three months with a metatarsal injury, is expected to have a role in Arsenal’s first team next season.

“As William is returning from injury, we asked that Saint-Étienne follow a clear training plan with William in close collaboration with us, to ensure he is fully fit for the start of next season,” Arsenal said. “To our surprise we were unable to reach agreement to this plan which was proposed by our medical experts, and we are simply not prepared to risk the welfare of an Arsenal player.

“While it was not our primary concern, and ultimately not relevant as our training plan was not accepted, we also expected not to be financially disadvantaged by extending the loan. This was also not acceptable to Saint-Étienne.

“We know this is a disappointment for William but he understands we are working to protect his long-term interests and those of Arsenal.”

There are suggestions in France that Arsenal would have had to pay Saint-Étienne around £2m, in an appearance-related clause included in last summer’s deal and loan back, if Saliba took part in the final. Saliba was signed in a transfer worth around £27m, on a five-year contract, after Arsenal beat off competition from rivals who included Tottenham. He is able to train with Arteta’s side but cannot play in matches until the 2020-21 season.

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