Second Year Scholar
Position: Left wing
Height: 5ft 10in
Weight: 11st 12lbs
By Lambros Lambrou
Nigel Neita is blessed with speed to spare, but the youngster insists that the real value of having pace in abundance is knowing when to slow things down. “I don’t think that you can be too fast,” he says. “But sometimes having pure speed and doing everything at 100 miles per hour is counter-productive. You need to know when to slow your thinking and actions down, in order to be composed in front of goal and make the most of the positions that having pace can get you into. You also need to be able to mix it up and not just keep blasting down the wing.
“Before I came to Arsenal I was with Millwall and the way we played there was that there would be a ball to me or over the top and my role was to run at goal. There was little thought beyond that. When I came to Arsenal there was more of a passing game with team play, and I used my pace as part of the team so that we could set up play, stretch the game and open up spaces.
“I also did a lot more work on finishing, as I continue to do, and that means slowing things down to be cool and composed in and around the box rather than just blasting a shot at the end of a run.”
Nigel believes that having speed as part of your armoury is also a massive psychological boost, explaining: “When you know you have the beating of a defender for speed, that gives you more confidence in itself – but at the same time, when they know that they cannot keep up with you, they are already at a disadvantage and have to concentrate for every minute to try and keep you in check and not let you get away.
“Having pace is so important in the modern game but I think the ability to know when to use speed and when not too comes with experience – and watching players in the first-team is vital for that.
“I like to play as part of a front two if we are playing 4-4-2, or on the wing if we play with a three and a lone striker. I watch Robin van Persie but also Theo Walcott, Gervinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Andrey Arshavin. I know Andrey has come under some pressure recently, but I watch what he does and he is, on his day, one of the best in Europe. I am convinced that once he scores a couple of goals the confidence will return and he will make a vital contribution for us.”
Nigel made his debut for the Reserves in a ‘behind closed doors’ game against a Nike XI recently, and is keen to add to those opportunities. “I came on as a substitute and played wide,” he recalls. “We were 2-0 up but drew 2-2 – and I hit the post with a penalty – but it was a good experience and one I am looking to build on.
"We played at the training ground on two different pitches because of the frost. We are playing more Reserve games at the training ground, which I suppose is more convenient, but when we play games at Underhill it does add to the occasion for us as players so I hope I get to play for the Reserves there too – especially as the crowd are so good.”
Teams you played for before Arsenal?
Elms FC, Millwall, Kelsey Park Sports College
Best piece of advice anyone’s ever given you?
“Keep grounded and stay humble”
Best football moment before joining Arsenal?
Meeting David Beckham at his Academy
Team supported growing up?
I’m Arsenal through and through!
Pretended to be in the playground?
Other sports that you’re good at?
Athletics – the 100m and the relay
Favourite kids’ TV growing up?
Dragon Ball Z
Who was your favourite teacher at school?
Kris Hollidge at Kelsey Park Sports College
Who’s been the most influential on your career so far?
Other clubs interested before you joined Arsenal?
Chelsea and Manchester United
What is your favourite item of clothing?
My trainers and jackets
A white Bentley with black tints and chrome rims
What’s the best thing about being part of the Academy?
The training and the facilities
Three words to describe you as a player...
I’ll leave that for you to decide!
Three words to describe you as a person...
Funny, talkative, relaxed