Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe require certain conditions in order to fulfil their near-limitless potential.
Let me explain…
For every sport, the key component that keeps fans glued to their seat or armchair is excitement.
Now, we can all find a thrill from many different things…ahem. And that is why sport is so diverse. Some find it fascinating that a slightly lower tread on a tyre will produce tenths of a second gains for a Formula 1 car.
A lot won’t.
And so every sport has a fanbase, making sport as diverse as humanity itself.
But excitement is at the core of it all.
If there were no incidents to raise the pulses, then that sport would eventually wink out of existence pretty quickly. And for football, what makes us fans shout louder?
Shots on goal, attempts, having a crack, swinging a leg at it etc. Take these away and you have a stale, turgid midfield battle where there’s no victor. Or a cagey battle of possession where no team will make a move for fear of making an error.
It is chances that make football so special and the Premier League, in particular, the most watched across the world.
The frenetic, breakneck speed, the end-to-end nature of a game. When a game hits those high notes it doesn’t matter who your allegiance is with, you will talk about those games with any fan.
And it is chances that make goals. And chances are what Arsenal ‘used’ to be synonymous with.
We used to be described as ‘swashbuckling.’ A football team who had swagger, could mix it with the edgy stuff but could also cut you open with the drop of a shoulder or the swish of a boot. Deadly, but with style.
Even years after those great Wenger teams and with the Frenchman constrained with a tight budget, he still constructed teams that could decimate any opponent. True, they were as brittle as a house of cards, but it was also known when the Gunners turned it on, we were impossible to live with.
The likes of Hleb, Nasri,Fabregas, Cazorla, Ozil, Eduardo, Ramsey, Wilshere – players who could make magic on the pitch – the equivalent of something from nothing. Blink and you’ll miss it moments that then go on to live forever on a highlights reel which pop up on you feeds, ad infinitum.
But even these fragile but genius teams are a thing of the past and Arsenal in our current incarnation are in danger of ruining this reputation we have of being the entertainers on the pitch.
It was always said that if a neutral fan were to choose a game to watch, they should choose Arsenal – but that wouldn’t be the case any more.
And this is why Mikel Arteta must give artistic license to Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe. He must give them space to roam on the pitch, and concoct plans that offer cover and support when they do go pillaging on the pitch.
And another important factor? Arteta must ensure that when these two young players have a bad game and nothing comes off – then they must not be lambasted. They must continue to be encouraged, for it is this ‘wild card’ mentality that unlocks games, the unpredictability that settles the tightest of matches.
How often have a team been undone by mastery of close control, or a moment of sheer improvisation? Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka need to be encouraged to try everything on the pitch. They hold all the talent necessary – they now require the right conditions to grow into what they are capable of…
…truly world class.
Saka and ESR could go on to wondrous things in our red and white. Let’s show them that they have our support, even when the going gets tough.