Monday, October 3, 2022

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Mikel Arteta told Arsenal’s Ethan Nwaneri to “enjoy” the moment after making Premier League history

For a brief moment it looked like Ethan Nwaneri would make Premier League history and then shyly and quietly disappear back into the Arsenal dressing room.

But his team-mates weren’t about to let his incredible moment, after becoming the youngest player in the league at 15 years and 181 days, go by without the fanfare it deserved.

After his record-breaking added-time cameo, goaltender Aaron Ramsdale waved back at Nwaneri – the first U16 player ever to play in the division – as he headed for the tunnel.

With his arm around Nwaneri’s shoulder, Ramsdale ushered him over to the Arsenal fans for his day to relive the recognition they receive after the win, as well as his first few minutes with the senior team.

Then there was an extra celebration after Ramsdale and then Gabriel Martinelli playfully shoved attacking midfielder Nwaneri forward to celebrate him alone.

Nwaneri earned his moment after training with Arsenal’s first-team on Saturday and a brilliant start to the season with their academy, in which he scored four goals and provided five more in just 10 games.

He made his U18 debut aged 14 in May 2021, scoring against Reading and his U21 arc was also well ahead of schedule earlier this month.

Mikel Arteta said: “It was just a gut feeling. When I met him, when I looked at him, I had this feeling. I really liked what I saw.

“Per Mertesacker and the staff at the academy are giving me really good information, as is Edu. I met him, he trained with us a couple of times.

“Yesterday he had to come because we have injuries, especially Martin’s (Odegaard) injury and then yesterday I felt like I would do it if the opportunity came up and I just did it.

“I told him yesterday that he will be with us and that I want him to experience what it’s like to be at the hotel, to prepare for the game, to be with the lads and to be ready got to.

“If you want to sit on this bench, you have to be ready. The boy just looks you in the eye and he’s ready. [When he was coming on I said] Congratulations and have fun.”

Nwaneri’s eagerness to engage in his few minutes on the pitch against Brentford was understandable and obvious.

He had just one touch, which was loudly cheered by the guests, but his performance was long enough to allow Arsenal fans to mock and sing at their Brentford rivals about a 15-year-old playing against them : “He has school tomorrow morning.”

When Nwaneri – so young in fact that he was born after the Emirates opened in 2006 and has to get ready in a separate dressing room alongside his adult teammates – entered the fray, a number of records were shattered.

He became Arsenal’s youngest-ever Premier League player, a record set by Jack Wilshere (16 years and 256 days), and the youngest of any player in any competition.

Before Sunday that was Cesc Fabregas, who made his first-team debut at the age of 16 years and 177 days. Not bad footsteps for Nwaneri.

Harvey Elliott previously became the youngest player in the Premier League at 16 years and 30 days when he made his Fulham debut.

A student at St John’s Prep and Senior School in Enfield, Nwaneri is also the first player born in 2007 to play in one of Europe’s top five leagues.

Arteta said: “All the decisions we make and I make are for the club. It’s not for me, it’s not for the player, it’s because we think he has a talent that needs to be incredibly developed over the next two or three years.

“We’ll see how we can do it, but the boy will dictate it. Usually it’s not us, usually the players tell you and ask you how far you can go with it.’

With Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool on Nwaneri’s trail, it’s a good way to show him a place in the record books and a quick opportunity to see what could lie ahead at Arsenal.

Arteta said: “It sends a strong message about who we are as a club. That we want to create chances when there is talent, when there is personality and when there are players who love what they do and when they are not afraid. The doors are open to explore where they can go.”

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