By Lambros Lambrou

The central defender was called upon to guard the goal when regular Under-18s 'keeper Wojciech Szczesny dislocated his finger in the warm up before the recent Crystal Palace game.

His personal mission impossible materialised into a task most comfortable: "I have never played in goal before and to be honest I was a little bit scared although I was pleased to be involved as I was not due to play because I had been ill all week. When Steve Bould asked me to go in goal he tried to reassure me that all would be ok and so I felt a little better when the game started. I felt really exposed though and they got through once and I was so relieved that the player's shot went over the bar. I did have to make one save though," smiles Tom. "Unfortunately it was judged offside. Apart from that all I had to make was a few kicks. It took me a little while to get settled. I had to keep reminding myself not to push up for offside," he laughs.

"When James Shea , one of our regular goalkeepers, arrived [from Hale End] I have to say I was both relieved and a little disappointed at the same time. I was relieved because I played for 26 minutes and did not let anyone down but at the same time I was upset not to be a part of the game anymore. It was a good experience and I would do it again if asked. The other lads found it quite funny and in training I was known as GK for a couple of days. I think the experience helped me be a bit more understanding of what a goalkeeper goes through and that is bound to make me a better defender."

Tom is an England Under-17s international centre-back, but injury didn't allow him to start his first year as a scholar in the ideal way:

"I broke my toe in training during preseason," he adds. "That meant that my pre-season preparation was disrupted and I fell behind with my preparation. I was out for six weeks and it took me about three weeks to catch up and get match fit. I've played a few games since and feel that I am progressing well. As a centre-back it's been a real benefit for me to have Steve Bould as a coach. Training is great but it's also helpful that he encourages us to ask questions about anything relating to the game which is a massive help. The type of training we do with Arsenal is very technical compared to that with England. With England there's more of an emphasis on game  situations and getting us used to the role we are asked to play, whereas at Arsenal they are concentrating on our overall game, especially our technical ability. I think if every Academy tried to develop their players the way Arsenal do then I think that would go a long way to improving things for the national team in the future."

Tom is from Islington and from a family of Arsenal Season Ticket Holders. He attended his first game at Highbury as a two year-old:

"I have been an Arsenal fan all my life and so being a part of the Club is a dream come true for me and my family. My dad Tom, mum Stephanie and my brother Albert have all supported me and watched almost every game and I know how much it would mean to them for me to make it as a professional at Arsenal. At the moment I am concentrating on becoming the best player I can be. I want to play as many games as I can in the Under-18s, but I want to start some games for the Reserves. I have come on as a substitute twice and been on the bench three times but as a defender I think that I would benefit so much from the experience of reserves football," says the 16 year-old. "I think as a centre-back it is more of a physical challenge and the chance of playing against experienced strikers will help tremendously. I am playing at a club where we all enjoy our football and there is a great spirit here. Things are really good and I feel they are getting even better," concludes Tom.

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30 Nov 2007