The look of determination on Julio Pleguezuelo’s face says it all.
Speaking just 24 hours before he faces his former club, Barcelona, in the quarter-finals of the Uefa Youth League the talented young defender means business - and he doesn’t care who knows it.
“It will be a very tough game, very tough,” he tells Arsenal.com in the team hotel. “They’re a really good side, very technical. It will be hard to win the ball back from them, so we have to keep hold of it when we get it. But we are confident we can win over here, for sure.”
The English game is my type of football; physical and quick. It is much faster than in Spain, so you have to think very quicklyJulio Pleguezuelo
The Spanish defender’s optimism is replicated throughout this Arsenal squad. Hector Bellerin and Jon Toral - both educated at the famed La Masia academy in Catalonia - are equally confident and looking forward to putting on a show in front of the hordes of family and friends coming to watch them on Tuesday evening.
It is not hard to see why. Steve Gatting’s squad is positively bursting at the seams with top talent, from a first-team squad member like Serge Gnabry, through to the Spanish trio and then the likes of Chuba Akpom, currently flourishing on loan at Coventry City. The terms of that deal allow him to take part in the Gunners’ FA Youth Cup and Uefa Youth League fixtures, and he is certain that this squad can go all the way in both competitions.
The unassuming Pleguezuelo - known as Pleggy to all at the Club - has thrived since his arrival in England last summer. He came here with no English at all, and yet nine months later he is happy to conduct interviews and chat casually with a quiet confidence that is typical of him. On the pitch, he has flourished too. Although not the tallest of centre backs, he believes his other qualities more than make up for that.
“I think I am improving a lot at Arsenal,” he says. “The English game is my type of football; physical and quick. It is much faster than in Spain, so you have to think very quickly. The pace in England here is… wow. That is the main difference from playing in Spain, but I enjoy it.
I am not very big, but I can be quicker, I can jump higher, and I am working very hard because I know I am not very tallJulio Pleguezuelo
“I am pleased with how things have gone here. At Barcelona I learnt many things with the ball, and I hope that I can show that with Arsenal to make the team better. But I need to work on my strength still.
“Obviously my size is not the biggest, but I think I have other things to me. I am quicker than lots of strikers, for example. I am not very big, but I can be quicker, I can jump higher, and I am working very hard because I know I am not very tall.”
Pleguezuelo will have to be at his best against a Barcelona side fancied by many to go all the way. The hosts won five of their six games in the group stage to top Group H above AC Milan, Celtic and Ajax, and also scored 20 goals from their six games - more than any side in the competition. Then, in the last-16, a four-goal blitz saw them knock out FC Copenhagen despite falling a goal behind at Mini Estadi.
It remains a daunting task for Arsenal’s rising stars, but Pleguezuelo and his team-mates are sure they can rise to the challenge.
- We will have live tweets from Mini Estadi on the @Arsenal account from 4.55pm (UK time)
- The Barcelona v Arsenal match will be broadcast on British Eurosport and Eurosport Player on Tuesday from 5pm (UK time)