Stefan O’Connor is still only 18 but he has already lived the dream of most footballers his age: playing for Arsenal in the Champions League.
The defender was a 77th-minute substitute in the Gunners’ 4-1 win at Galatasaray in December, replacing Mathieu Debuchy in an unfamiliar position at right back.
However, O’Connor believes the “tough” experience helped him mature and has left him more motivated than ever to make the step up to the first team again.
"You see the difference in quality and standard when you get into the first team so you need to really work hard when you are with the under-21s and try to get back into the first team"
“It was hard because I'm not a right back,” he told Arsenal.com. “I had never played there before, but of course you just want to play anywhere. It was a great experience, the Champions League is a great place to start! Afterwards the boss said well done to me.
“It motivates you even more to get back to where you were and develop your game. You see the difference in quality and standard when you get into the first team so you need to really work hard when you are with the under-21s and try to get back into the first team.
“I’ve been training with the first team quite a bit lately too and that's been great. It's a different level. I was quite nervous at first but I'm more used to it now so I can relax and be myself more.”
An Arsenal Under-21s regular, O’Connor’s next challenge is against Premier Academy League leaders Newcastle United at St James’ Park on Monday, and the defender is confident the young Gunners can get revenge for the 2-1 reverse defeat in September.
“We had a really young team when we played against the at home earlier in the season,” O’Connor added. “But we have got some more of our senior players now so I am confident we will beat them when we play them this time.
“I remember we had a lot of possession and a lot of chances in that first game at home. They only had two chances, but they took them both and won the game. They are top of the league now, so it playing them again will be tough.”
Arsenal Under-21s kick-off at 7pm (UK time) on Monday. You can follow live updates of the game on the @Arsenal Twitter feed from 6.55pm.
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