By Nick Ames
Arsenal Under-18s’ season is well and truly up and running thanks to impressive wins against Leeds and MK Dons – and left-back Samir Bihmoutine is convinced that Steve Bould’s side has plenty to look forward to after a mixed 2010/11 campaign.
“We’ve had a couple of good wins already and things are looking much more positive this season,” he says. “Last year was a massive learning curve for everybody – especially for those of us who were first-years – and we’d all admit it wasn’t the best of seasons.
"But now we’ve gelled as a team, we’re playing more like an Arsenal side and look more effective in and around the box. We’ve been working hard in training on keeping the ball, moving it more quickly and closing down from the front so we can pressure teams into giving the ball away. I think you can see it working so far.”
Now firmly established as one of the team’s senior members, Samir admits that the first year of an Academy scholarship is something of a culture shock for anybody – but states that he’s now well attuned to the rigours of life under the watchful eyes of Liam Brady and Steve Bould.
“It was quite different and took quite a bit of time to adapt. Up at Hale End we weren’t training every day and it wasn’t as intense as here. I learned lots of new training drills after arriving here, and of course it’s difficult as first, but I got used to it as time went on.”
When asked to name his favourite moments of last term, Samir doesn’t hesitate.
“My most memorable performance was against Portsmouth – I came on as a sub and made a positive impact, scoring a goal and setting one up. That gave me confidence for the games that followed. It was also great to be on the bench at Chelsea in the Youth Cup – I didn’t come on but it was a good experience.”
Samir’s educational arc has included the rudiments of his position. He explains that, although now happy in the back four, his sights were originally set further forward. He says: “I’m an attacking kind of left-back – I used to play on the left wing when I was younger but Steve has preferred for me to play as a forward-thinking defender, which I enjoy. I like to create overlaps and get crosses in.
“I’ve had to learn quite a bit about covering and about heading, which I wasn’t really used to on the left wing. I found it quite hard at first, with the increased physical expectation of playing in defence, but I’ve picked it up with time. I’ve got a programme from fitness coach to help me with my strength on the pitch. I’m following it closely and so far it’s paying off.”
He’s not been short of role models – either currently at the Club or recently departed – noting: “I used to pay particular attention to Gael Clichy, see what he was doing and learn a few things from him. It was weird seeing Gael leave because you were used to seeing him week in, week out, but Kieran Gibbs came in and did well at the start of the season and that’s encouraging for any Academy boy. We’ve now got Andre Santos, too, who looks an exciting signing so there are plenty of good examples here.”
There’s a chance Samir could become sought-after property on the international scene. His father is Moroccan, and he admits that he’d love to represent the ‘Lions of the Atlas’.
“I’ve had contact with Morocco and might look to represent them next year after getting more experience with Arsenal,” he reveals. “I’d like to play for them, my dad’s from there and it’s a big part of my background. I speak with Marouane Chamakh when I see him in the gym, and we’ve chatted about the national team. Our families come from similar places, actually, in Casablanca – so we have that in common.”
Finally, Samir sketches out his ambitions for the next 12 months – and they’re as bold as you’d expect from any second-year scholar.
“I’d like to become a regular in the reserves and to sign my first pro’ contract. Hopefully I can train with the first-team a bit, too, and perhaps even make a Carling Cup appearance. I’ll keep working hard to give myself the best possible chance of achieving all these things."
Teams you played for before Arsenal?
Essex County, Redbridge United and Seven Kings High School.
Best advice received?
Always give it your best, at least if things don’t work out you can look back and say you gave it your all.
Best football moment before joining Arsenal?
Winning my first trophy for Player of the Year.
Supported growing up?
Who did you pretend to be on the playground?
Other sports good at?
Table tennis, athletics and basketball.
Favourite kids’ TV programme when you were growing up?
Most influential on your football career so far?
Which other clubs were interested in signing you before Arsenal?
Tottenham, Charlton, Millwall, West Ham and Chelsea.
Fave item of clothing?
My jackets – I’m told I have a lot.
Best thing about being part of the Academy?
Being able to train with the best players in the world every day and getting help to develop myself as a
player to the maximum with the great coaching staff we have.
Three words to describe you as a player.
Athletic, intelligent, hard working.
Three words to describe you as a person.
Calm, outgoing, reliable.
Three people you follow on Twitter.
50 Cent, Lil Wayne, Rio Ferdinand.
Most talented team-mate.
Something we don’t know about you?
My favourite foreign team is Barcelona.
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