Nigeria is gradually becoming something of Arsenal’s mini-academy in Africa.
Over time, the West African nation has produced promising stars that have evolved into superstars at the Emirates.
Nwankwo Kanu initiated the talent factory, snapped up the Gunners from Inter Milan in 1999 for approximately £4.15 million.
Alex Iwobi has carried that torch with aplomb so far. The flame doesn’t seem like going off any time soon.
At the moment, it is reported that around 11 players of Nigerian descent are currently sneaking in and out of Unai Emery’s first team.
On Thursday, 17-year-old Bukayo Saka got his maiden foray with the senior squad, stepping off the bench against Vorskla in the Europa League.
The speedy winger has turned heads with consistent performances for the U23s this season and won a penalty in the recent Checkatrade Trophy match against Forest Green Rovers after beating more than four defenders with a skilful run.“Today Saka also played with a good performance, with a very big personality and we were speaking at half-time., ” Emery said about the winger who has contributed to 11 goals for the youth teams this season, which works out as a goal every 79.5 minutes.”They were trying… his personality is very important for us to continue trying to go 1v1 and break lines with his quality.”He played with a very big personality and sometimes with a very good performance. It’s very important for his confidence and for us also, because we can look at this player and see the quality to help us.”Born and raised in London, Saka is of Nigerian descent and has represented England at youth level where he currently plays for the Under-19s.
He recently scored just three minutes into his debut in a 4-0 win over Moldova, finishing Stephen Walker’s through ball to score the third goal for England.
A direct, tricky left winger who is one of the youngest players in the U23 set-up, Saka remains highly regarded by his coaches at Hale End and there is a growing belief that he could be close to making more first-team appearances if his performances continue on the same level for the youth teams.
“Bukayo is a great talent and played very, very well today,” Gunners youth coach Freddie Ljungberg told Arsenal Player after the 4-0 win over Liverpool in September.
“We’ve given him 15 minutes here and 20 minutes there to help him get used to the tempo, the speed and strength of opponents, and he’s taken it in his stride. He’s just going to get better and better, keep his head down and keep on working.”