By George Overhill

17th Mar, 2022 | 1:08pm

Bukayo Saka: Youngster tipped as next Arsenal captain as Gunners look to avoid losing star

Bukayo Saka “simply has to be the leading candidate” to be the next Arsenal captain as it should stop him leaving, according to Joleon Lescott.

Speculation about the young England star’s future is mounting, with ESPN reporting last month that Premier League rivals Liverpool and Manchester City may make a move if the Gunners miss out on the Champions League.

The club are currently well placed to do that, sitting a point ahead of Manchester United in fourth, with two games in hand.

Manager Mikel Arteta is attempting to bring about a youth-lead revival of the club’s fortunes, and the 20-year-old attacker is the jewel in the crown of those efforts.

Writing in his column for Live Score, former England defender Lescott says: “From an Arsenal perspective, Saka is a player they have to keep hold of at all costs.

“He has aspirations to play in the Champions League next season. But by giving him the armband, I think he’d be far less likely to leave if they did miss out on the top four.

“He’s come through the ranks, he loves the club — he simply has to be a leading candidate.”

It would be a disaster for the North Londoners to lose their star man, and would undoubtedly bring back memories of the numerous other Emirates stand-outs who have left for rival clubs, and the Mirror has reported he is “open” to an exit.

Saka rebounded from a difficult summer to continue the form that has made him an international feature under Gareth Southgate, with nine goals and five assists this season.

The then-teenager was one of the unlucky England stars to miss penalties in the EURO 2020 final shoot-out defeat to Italy, and subsequently was subjected to shameful racist abuse.

Not that he should have had to, but he has shown impressive strength to bounce back from such hurt and disappointment, and Lescott believes this proves his candidacy as Arsenal leader.

The ex-Man City centre-back writes: “Though he’s still only young, he endured something last summer with England that most wouldn’t face in their entire career.

“I think Mikel Arteta said it himself that coming through the penalty miss has done wonders for his character and confidence — and I think he’d relish the responsibility.”

Despite only turning 20 this season, Saka has already made well over 100 appearances for his club, as well as winning 14 international caps.

The likelihood is he will continue to thrive wherever he plays, but Arsenal fans will be desperate that will carry on at their club for years to come.

In other Football Wonderkids news, Anthony Gordon’s purple patch at Everton means an England call-up should be imminent.