29 November 2018, will go down as a moment in Arsenal history that many can proudly say “I was there.”
On a Europa League night against Ukrainian outfit Vorskla Poltava, a young Bukayo Saka made his first appearance for the Gunners under former boss Unai Emery when he replaced cult hero Aaron Ramsey in the 68th minute.
It would not be much longer before Saka made his competitive full debut in front of home support at the Emirates Stadium for the north London giants when he earned a starting birth against Qarabağ FK, and just a little over two weeks later, Saka was already making waves across the Premier League landscape when he became the first player born in the 21st century to feature in the Premier League when he appeared as a sub against Everton.
Saka was destined for great things from the start, and despite friends and compatriots Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith Rowe perhaps garnering more attention during their navigation of the Hale End Academy pipeline, the Ealing native is an undeniable face of not just Arsenal, but football in England as a whole and those achievements have been recognized after he featured on the cover of Time magazine’s Next Generation Leaders.
At a club that has long been connected to the people, with historic strong representation in the Black community on the back of countless stars the likes of Paul Davis, Michael Thomas, David Rocastle, Ian Wright, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, and Sol Campbell helping to define the club across its illustrious history, Saka has picked up the mantle that many before him have carried with distinction as he has emerged as one of the top young players in the world.
But that story could have read very differently in the wake of heartbreak at Euro 2020 when Saka missed his penalty against Italy in the final that sealed England’s fate in a tournament that could have seen them lift their first major international honor since 1966.
Where many would have crumbled due to the weight of a nation on his young shoulders, and the resulting racial abuse that followed in the days and weeks after that heartbreaking moment, Saka rose above during the 2021-22 Premier League season to establish himself as one of the best and brightest in the league and across the continent at large under the guidance of Mikel Arteta.
At the time of writing, Saka has already featured 142 times for the Gunners across all competitions while adding goals to his game at an increasing rate after he hit 11 in the Premier League last term.
With the 2022 World Cup in Qatar just around the corner, Saka, who has already received 20 caps for England, is viewed by many as a vital piece of the national team that warrants near-guaranteed selection by Gareth Southgate in his preferred XI.
There are few 21-year-olds across the scope of history that have been able to influence a wider audience, but not only has Bukayo Saka championed perseverance, his progression as a Black footballer in a world where many still want to mute the achievements of an entire race stands in defiance of what you can achieve no matter the hardships.
Bukayo Saka is a superstar, and its time everyone came to that realization.