Arsenal u18s fell to a disappointing final defeat to Derby on Tuesday, after a fantastic season overall, but Bukayo Saka still made his mark on the game in style.
After winning the u18 Premier League south impressively, Arsenal took on northern league winners Derby at Pride Park to decide the country’s overall champion.
Unfortunately, it just wasn’t the Gunners’ day. Star striker Folarin Balogun, who has been the undisputed star of the u18 side, was mysteriously absent from the squad. Goalkeeper Arthur Okonkwo was also left out, and a miskick from his replacement Tom Smith as well as a deflected finish left the hosts in charge at 3-1 by half-time.
Derby added a fourth in the second half before Arsenal mounted a comeback with a goal of their own, but after missing a penalty the game was all but over. Derby made it 5-2 in injury time to add insult to injury.
There was one major positive from the match though, in the form of Bukayo Saka. The winger has been playing with the u23s recently, but with Balogun and Sam Greenwood out, the 17-year-old dropped down to help the u18s in their final.
It was Saka who opened the scoring in the first half, and Saka who started Arsenal’s late comeback. His finishing has been excellent this season, and it was on display again despite the overall team performance:
In total, the young winger has 14 goals, 10 assists and two penalties won leading to goals in 30 games for the academy this season. He’s directly contributing to a goal every 86 minutes from wide areas, whilst Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi have contributed to one goal combined since the start of March.
With the Premier League season now over anyway, Saka should be starting against Burnley. Unai Emery has nothing to lose in that game, and everything to gain if the winger proves a hit at senior level. We’ll never know how well he can do until he gets chances, and you don’t get many free hits like this.