By Matt Fortune

“Yes, of course. Definitely. I really want to make it here.” Fran Merida has his eyes on the big prize, a place in the Arsenal first-team.

The Spanish midfielder is widely regarded as one of Europe’s brightest young talents; praise substantiated by a personal accolade received at the recent Uefa Under-19 Championships in the Czech Republic. There, Spain faltered, crashing out at the group stages, but Merida was ear-marked on a shortlist of ‘Future Stars’ by the confederation’s official website.

The 18-year-old turned out for Neil Banfield’s second-string on Tuesday in the 4-0 win over Boreham Wood. It was his first appearance for the Club since returning from a loan spell with Real Sociedad in Spain’s second tier. Merida endured mixed fortunes back in his homeland, but was ultimately a big success as he helped to maintain a promotion push until the closing weeks of the season.

“Being away with Sociedad was really great for me,” Merida told “At the beginning I wasn’t really playing, maybe only 10 or 20 minutes at the end of the games, but when the coach was replaced I found new confidence and I worked myself into the team.

“The beginning was difficult because I have never had that situation before. That was the hard part. I needed to learn from it and I did. It just shows that nobody will just give you something; you have to work hard for it.

“I worked my way into the team and from there my experience was very good. I got new friends, too, so in general it was a very good time for me.

“Playing professionally is a new situation, one where you play in front of 25,000 people, one with pressure from press and fans every single week. I am not saying it is better than reserve football here because you learn so much, but it is different.

“It looks more like the first-team and that can prepare you and make you a better player.”

Merida is already known to Gunners fans after an appearance, albeit a brief one, in the Carling Cup defeat of Newcastle at Emirates Stadium last season. Later in the campaign Arsène Wenger referred to Fran as "an absolutely amazing talent" after the player agreed an extension to his contract. He is clearly held in very high regard, and the feeling is mutual.

“It fills me happiness that I am at Arsenal, a great club and one of the best for young people,” said Merida. “I will keep going with what I do best and going into my third season I have the feeling that I want to make it here.

“I haven’t had a chance to speak with Arsène Wenger but I have been training with the physio to improve my fitness levels. I don’t know if we will sit down and talk next week or the next, but the most important thing is for me to be back working with the team.

“I feel very good and I’m full of enthusiasm for the new season.”

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14 Aug 2008