Will Bukayo Saka become a legendary Arsenal number seven?

For all the downsides of watching football right now (VAR, of course, and empty stadiums with the silence punctured by the screams of uninjured players), there is still nothing quite like the pleasure of watching a home-grown player break into your team.

As Arsenal fans, we’ve had plenty of false dawns, but there is little doubt that Bukayo Saka has the potential for greatness. If he is to achieve it with Arsenal, it will ultimately be measured in trophies, as well as his individual contribution.

Arsenal have been blessed with some magnificent number sevens, many of whom are now club legends with a huge collection of silverware between them. Saka has a long way to go of course, but certainly seems to share some of the best qualities of his predecessors: wonderful natural skill allied with high intelligence and temperament. I was a little too young to see Liam Brady’s outrageous skill at first-hand, but I was brought up on video tapes of his magnificent, physics-defying swerving goal against Spurs, and his run and cross against Man United in the 1979 FA Cup final. Before Brady, of course there was George Armstrong, who graced the wing at Highbury with flair, courage and remarkable consistency - one of only four players with over 600 appearances for Arsenal.

For me, however, I see the number seven, and I see David Rocastle. Rocky was my first hero, breaking into the team around the same time as I started visiting Highbury regularly.

Like Saka, from day one, young Rocastle was often the best player on the pitch. Despite only making his debut at the end of September 1985, and not becoming a regular in the team until January, Rocky was still voted Arsenal Player of the Year by supporters. Fans were desperate for some flair on the pitch and they saw enough of Rocastle to be won over by his skill and fight. George Graham arrived the following season and proved to be the perfect manager to make the best of Rocastle’s talent, alongside other homegrown talents such as Paul Merson and Michael Thomas, who were also just breaking into the first team. Can Mikel Arteta do the same for the likes of Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe (who reminds me of Merson at times)?

Rocastle eventually left the club in 1992 - too early for many fans - but with a League Cup, two Championship medals and guaranteed legend status.

I was lucky enough to see many of Rocastle’s finest moments in an Arsenal shirt. I was at Villa Park on New Year’s Eve in 1988 to see him score an outrageous lob in a 3-0 win, in the season where every goal counted towards winning the championship.

Almost fourteen years later, I was at the same venue to see Arsenal’s next truly great number seven score a similarly marvellous lob, this one dinked gloriously over Peter Schmeichel.

Six days later a cruciate ligament injury ended Robert Pires’ season, but he’d been so good, he was still named Football Writers’ Player of the Year, despite missing the last ten games of the season. Pires left Arsenal with two championship medals and two FA Cups, and left supporters with many memories of his brilliance. Crucially, he loved to score against Tottenham, scoring eight goals in twelve appearances against them.

While scoring against Spurs is not a prerequisite for Arsenal legend status, it certainly helps. Bukayo - take note!

Between Rocky and Pires, some fine players wore the number seven, including Kevin Campbell and David Platt, but neither were wingers, or flair midfielders.

Tomas Rosicky inherited Pires’ shirt and was much loved by Arsenal fans but never reached the heights of his predecessor. Next came Alexis Sanchez, whose individual contributions could sometimes take the breath away, and while he played a major role in winning some much needed silverware, he won’t be welcomed back to Arsenal with open arms any time soon.

Bukayo Saka has only played 50 games for Arsenal, but he’s made a pretty strong impression so far. Let’s hope we’re talking about him in the same breath as some of those legendary number sevens in the future.

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