By Nick Ames
Carling Cup Third Round day is traditionally one whose build-up puts an extra little spring in the steps of Arsenal’s young players. Train well and it’s far from inconceivable that a first team bow will be a short time in coming – as scores of fledgling footballers have discovered over the last decade or so
One such player is Chuks Aneke, the richly promising – and towering in stature – 18 year-old attacking midfielder whose early season form in the Reserves has turned plenty of heads. We caught up with Chuks to chat about his ambitions for the season ahead and, hopefully, this evening’s game.
“I’m feeling good so far this season,” reveals the east London-born youngster. “I’m optimistic that this will be a big year for me. I intend to produce good things on the field and show people how good I am, and so far I think I’ve done ok.
"I’ve played three times for the Reserves and been in decent form – scoring a couple of goals and playing pretty well. So overall I’m happy and want to push on from here.”
Neil Banfield’s second string have certainly started the season prolifically – eight goals in three games against strong sides fielded by Manchester United, Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers respectively bearing testament to the wealth of attacking talent that lies within.
“We’ve been playing well and scoring goals,” says Chuks. “And that’s the kind of players we have, guys who can put the ball in the net and make chances too. We play an attacking style that gives us every chance of making it difficult for teams.”
Regular watchers of the Reserves, and previously, the Under-18s, will know plenty about Chuks. Physically imposing and towering above many of his team-mates, he also boasts an enviable turn of pace and a wide array of skills. He admits that his size has always been a considerable asset to him.
“I’ve always been the tallest in my team, whatever the age group! It’s always been an advantage as I was growing up. Hopefully there’s more that I can bring to the table, too. I’ve always got a trick up my sleeve that can get me out of certain situations or put me in a scoring position, for example, and try to use these things at the right time.
“But looking at my whole game, since I became full-time at Arsenal I’ve developed a lot – on the technical side of things and also when it comes to improving the defensive side. I’m trying to keep getting better in all aspects of my football and hopefully I’ll get my chance in the first-team.”
If and when that comes to pass, where will he play? In recent times, Chuks’ talents have been focused primarily on the attacking side of the game – but it hasn’t always been that way.
“I’ve always been a midfielder – and I did start out as a more orthodox central player,” he explains. “But I see myself as a more attacking kind of midfielder, a number eight or perhaps a number ten. I’ll play anywhere I’m picked though, obviously.”
If a clutch of young players are involved in tonight’s game, there could be one considerable advantage. Rising through the ranks together creates a tight bond both on and off the pitch – and understandings that border on the uncanny, such as that of Chuks and his good friend Benik Afobe, who is unfortunately injured tonight. The young Gunner admits that such relationships often bear fruit.
“I’ve been playing with people like Benik and Nico Yennaris for so long that I think it is like a kind of telepathy! We know where each other is on the pitch. It used to be me setting Benik up mostly but I’d say it’s more of a mutual thing nowadays.
“As well as this, it’s a real motivation to see any young players involved in the firstteam. Look at the likes of Emmanuel Frimpong and Ignasi Miquel – obviously I’ve been playing with these guys in the Reserves and know how good they are, so it’s a boost to think that I’ve been playing in the same side as them and can maybe achieve the same things.”
Will that ambition begin to be realised this evening? Chuks has his fingers crossed that he can, as a minimum, get a few minutes’ competitive action for Arsène Wenger’s side.
“I hope to at least get on the bench against Shrewsbury – a little cameo would be nice, but I’ve not had any indication yet and of course it’s up to the boss. “I’ve trained with the first-team a little bit recently when players have been absent so know what level to expect. It’s a big step to make but you have to try and adapt to it.” Carling Cup football is, as Chuks explains, a good opportunity to get the Gunners up and running trophy-wise – and perhaps there’s a point to prove after last year’s agonising near miss.
“It’s very important,” he stressed. “In fact that might dictate how experienced a team the boss wants to put out against Shrewsbury. He might put a number of firstteam players in so that we can make a statement. It’s vital that we win a trophy this year and this is a good opportunity for Arsenal – everyone that plays will be taking it very seriously, I know.”
It would be another new plate for Chuks to spin after he turned out for England’s Under-19s against Holland the other week. He’s eligible to represent Nigeria too – and various rumours have suggested he may commit to the Super Eagles. True?
“Well, I played with England Under-19s in that draw with Holland and that was a great experience – so that’s been my focus and England are who I represent at the moment. It’s a good batch of players – Nico was there, as well as players like Harry Kane of Spurs and Chelsea’s Nathaniel Chalobah, and I really appreciated being involved.”
Finally, what does Chuks hope to achieve over the rest of this season? A loan might seem the next logical step for a player just turned 18 – and he says that, above all, he just wants to show people what he can do.
“I just want to be playing well, wherever I am – assisting, scoring goals, demonstrating how good I am. Where this season is concerned, I don’t really mind whether that is on loan or here at Arsenal. Wherever I get a chance in senior football, I hope I’ll make an impact.”
What does Arsenal mean to you?
It means home, where I play my football
What would your dream job be, if you weren’t a footballer?
Something in sports – perhaps sports psychology or coaching
What was the last film you saw?
Final Destination 5
Who was the last person you called on your mobile phone?
Probably my mum!
What is the most played song on your iPod?
There are a lot! But probably Boss by Meek Mills.
What is your favourite gadget?
I just purchased an iPad 2 so I’d say that.
What is your favourite website?
Arsenal.com of course!
What is your favourite computer game at the moment?
FIFA 2010, although I need to get the new one when it comes out.
What car do you drive?
A BMW 1 Series.
What fixture do you most look forward to every season?
It’s hard to say, but probably the games with Spurs.
What’s your favourite Rob the Chef dish?
Lasagne, fish and potatoes.
Apart from football, what sport are you best at?
Probably tennis or basketball.
What is your favourite fruit?
Easy – oranges.
Who in the world would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?
Meagan Good, definitely!
What talent would you most like to have?
I’d love to be able to sing – currently I’m terrible!
Who is the greatest player in your position of all time?
I’ll go for two – Maradona and Pele.
Who is the best act you have seen live?
Drake at the Hammersmith Apollo.
What is your favourite place in the world?
Tell us something we may not know about you.
I’m from east London and have lived in Newham for my whole life.
Young Guns originally featured in the Official Matchday Programme. Look out for a new one in every edition this season. To subscribe, call 08700 20 20 20.Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source