Mikel Arteta's kids are growing into leaders of men with Saka and Smith Rowe showing a bright future

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Mikel Arteta’s kids are growing into leaders of men… Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe are Arsenal’s present and future, Kieran Tierney stepped up as stand-in captain and Martin Odegaard is growing in stature

  • A trio of young stars showed why Arsenal’s future is bright against Brentford
  • Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard all impressed on Saturday
  • Kieran Tierney too showed leadership, taking the armband when no one else did


When Alexandre Lacazette went off and Granit Xhaka appeared to not want the armband, there was some brief confusion over the Arsenal captaincy.

But never mind. New talismans are emerging in Mikel Arteta’s squad. Kieran Tierney displayed his leadership qualities once again in that moment.

Realising the storm Xhaka’s apparent reluctance to take the armband could develop into, the Scotland left back accepted it for the remainder of the game and Arsenal got over the line.

When Alexandre Lacazette went off, it was Kieran Tierney who stepped up to take the armband

When Alexandre Lacazette went off, it was Kieran Tierney who stepped up to take the armband

Matter nipped in the bud. On the face of it, anyway. Before that, Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard had led through their deeds.

First, the two players who scored the goals that earned Arsenal an important victory in their top-four pursuit, Smith Rowe and Saka. At 21 and 20 respectively, they are Arsenal’s future. Or that is the hope as the Gunners plot to tie Saka down to a new contract that reflects his status as one of their most important players and which will require them to show his ambitions can be fulfilled at the Emirates.

Right now, the home-grown duo are also very much Arsenal’s present. In just over two years in charge, Arteta has transformed Arsenal’s squad. Of the group he inherited in December 2019, the Hale End academy graduates are two of only a handful of players to survive the cull to secure central, long-term roles.

Emile Smith Rowe was one of a number of young stars to lead by example on the pitch

Emile Smith Rowe was one of a number of young stars to lead by example on the pitch

Repeatedly, they have belied their years to produce decisive moments under Arteta, taking responsibility in the way you might expect more experienced players to do. There were two more against Brentford — from Smith Rowe for the crucial breakthrough and Saka to clinch victory when the visitors were beginning to believe.

In a season in which Arsenal have struggled for goals, Smith Rowe and Saka have delivered. They are Arsenal’s top scorers, with 10 and eight goals respectively. ‘I’m really happy they’ve become players who take responsibility and manage to win games for us, which is really impressive at that age,’ Arteta said.

And then there is playmaker Odegaard, who has grown in stature, confidence and influence since his permanent move from Real Madrid following a loan spell at Arsenal last season.

Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka have become the leading figures in the new look Arsenal team

Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka have become the leading figures in the new look Arsenal team 

He was involved in almost everything and his quality on the ball caught the eye against Brentford. But so did the way he set an example by chasing lost causes and directing his team-mates. The Norway captain is becoming another player Arteta knows he can rely on.

Arteta said: ‘He’s getting better and better and I’m not surprised because of the way he lives his profession, the way he likes to play football. Everything he does is to become better, so he still has a big margin (to improve).

‘He wants it more than probably anybody else on that pitch, every single day, and he will be top, top. He certainly has all the qualities to (be a future captain) and from talking to his national team coach (Stale Solbakken) I know how highly they speak of him.

Another one to impress was Martin Odegaard who Arteta said the Norwegian 'will be top, top'

Another one to impress was Martin Odegaard who Arteta said the Norwegian ‘will be top, top’

‘He walks through the corridor and everybody loves him. He is such a nice, humble guy who leads with the way he is.

‘It is very natural for him and (being Arsenal captain) will come.’ With goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhaes and Thomas Partey, too, key pillars of the team Arteta wants to build look to be in place.

While Arsenal can look forward with optimism, Thomas Frank agreed that reminding his players how good they were in the early months of the campaign might help Brentford.

Christian Norgaard’s stoppage-time goal at the end of an improved second half was not enough to prevent a seventh defeat in eight games.

Frank, whose side next face Newcastle, Norwich and Burnley, said: ‘It’s a reminder we were very good at the start of the season.

‘I also think we were very good in the middle. We just had a tricky spell against four of the biggest clubs in the world. Because it is that order, the narrative starts spinning the wrong way. It is about staying calm and being consistent in our messages.’

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