Saturday, September 23, 2023

Ethan Nwaneri debut was not just for fun

Morning all. I had a terrible night’s sleep so my thoughts this morning are likely to be a bit scattered.

It happens occasionally, where I just can’t fall asleep, and part of the reason why is I get a snippet of a song playing over and over and over in my head. Relentless earworming, I call it. Last night, it was a song by Harry Styles that I heard on the radio in the kitchen three days ago, but somehow it was being spun by DJ Brain and I am exhausted now, and I never want to hear that song again.

There’s some interesting stuff from Granit Xhaka on weekend debutant Ethan Nwaneri. The 15 year old was given a few minutes at the end of the 3-0 win over Brentford, and the Swiss international knows the young man from time spent with the U16s while doing his coaching badges. He says:

“You can see a big difference with him and the other guys. He is very special. He looks old when I see him. I told a Brentford player that he was 15 and he looked at me and said: ‘F*** me, we are looking old!’

“We have to protect him because he’s very young. If he keeps going like this, with this mentality, he has a big, big future.”

We had some questions for the Arsecast Extra which wondered if Mikel Arteta had given Nwaneri his debut at such a young age as a kind of revenge for Ivan Toney’s Tweet last season. You’ll have seen the manager use it in All Or Nothing, and it was referenced again by Gabriel after the game:

First, if we know anything about Mikel Arteta he is super-professional, and I just don’t think he’d do something just for the ‘bantz’. He had some very kind pre-game comments about Toney too, and although there were some ghosts to lay to rest at Brentford on Sunday, we did those by way of the outstanding performance and the result itself.

Secondly, it would be entirely wrong to use a 15 year old to do something like that. Managers and clubs have a duty of care to their players, young and not so young, but in particular to those who are just making their way in the game. Let’s not miss the fact that what happened on Sunday was extraordinary in many ways.

A player few had heard of outside seasoned Academy watchers became the youngest player to ever make his debut across the top 5 European leagues. You don’t do that just to make a petty point – not least because it wasn’t as if Brentford did us dirty last season, they just had a great night and deserved to win the game based on the performance. If Arteta was going to snap back, he’d have said something in his post-match interview about missing Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville dancing live on TV.

I think the main reason is we want to include him because, as Xhaka said, “He is very special.”

He is just 15, so there are still contractual issues at play here. He can’t sign professional terms until he turns 17, and you can be sure that there are other clubs aware of his talent and willing to take him on before he gets tied down at Arsenal. By handing him his debut, you hopefully cement his connection to the club. Perhaps I’m cynical, and I know injuries left us short for this game so that gap was there on a 9 man bench, but I wonder if his inclusion was strategic in that regard. If so, it shows a focus on our Academy pathway that’s very important.

The scenes after the final whistle, where both Aaron Ramsdale and Gabriel Martinelli brought him over to the away fans were great to see, and can you imagine what that must feel like at the age of 15? I’m not sure how I’d process that, and again Xhaka’s point about protecting him is important. From obscurity to worldwide football fame in the space of 24 hours is quite something to deal with.

Nevertheless, it demonstrates again to young players that in the Premier League right now, Arsenal is the place to be. It shows the kids in the Academy that if you’ve got talent and you work hard, you could make the breakthrough. It must be depressing to be a young player at some clubs who just go out and buy, buy, buy before they farm you out on loan after loan, and deep down you know you’re never going to get a chance.

I also think it must be something that talented young players throughout the game are now becoming aware of. If Arsenal come calling in the transfer market, you’d be much more open the idea of going there than another club where perhaps you won’t play as much. We’ve shown we trust in youth, and that opportunities will arrive. If you take your chance when it comes, you could have a bright future.

How much more we see of Ethan Nwaneri this season remains to be seen. Perhaps some Europa League minutes, but he’s already had a taste of the first team, and I’m sure he’ll be desperate for more. October is busy, so he may well become the youngest player to make his European debut too. Let’s see.

Just finally, with regards the Gabriel Tweet above, I saw a lot of po-faced nonsense about how it was out of order. Honestly, I despair at how desperate some people are to make a fuss about any little thing. I guarantee you Ivan Toney saw it and thought ‘Well, it’s fair cop’. If you dish it out, you have to be able to take it, and I bet he doesn’t need the protection of rent-a-gob pundits on Twitter either. He’s a grown man.

There’s a lot about the game you could take issue with these days, but this is definitely not it.

Right. Time for some coffee, hopefully that will help.

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