In Young Guns, featured first in the official matchday programme, we find out about the next generation of Arsenal youngsters, in their own words. This week we spoke to defender Tolaji Bola.
I have been with Arsenal since I was an under-9 and have always been a central defender. A lot of people join Arsenal in one position and get converted to a different role.
That hasn’t been the case for me because I’m happiest in central defence. It’s where my older brother played and it’s where I’m the most comfortable in that I can see the big picture of the game in front of me. It felt like the natural choice. I believe I’m a good reader of the game and being in the heart of defence helps.
"I’m also fortunate enough to be pretty quick – I was the Hertfordshire District 100m sprint champion for two years running from the ages of 12 to 14"
I enjoy the role because I feel very involved and I enjoy the physical side of the game. I’m also fortunate enough to be pretty quick – I was the Hertfordshire District 100m sprint champion for two years running from the ages of 12 to 14.
Because I’m quick I prefer to play against a Walcott type of striker than a Giroud. I enjoy the physical battle of a Giroud style but quick attackers bring out the best in me. If they try to knock it past me I have the pace to deal with that and I can also intimidate them physically which further limits the options for such players.
I’m always looking to improve as a player and particularly as a central defender. The main areas are my heading and communication on the pitch. With heading it’s a case of practice, practice, practice. I work a lot on reading the flight of the ball, the quality of the contact, accuracy power and direction.
Regarding communication, that is simply about me growing in confidence to relay information to those around me in a more resolute way. It’s very important for defenders to be vocal and communicate with each other and the midfield especially.
I was first spotted by Arsenal playing for my Sunday side Parkfield in Harrow at a tournament. There were Arsenal scouts watching who approached my dad to see if I would be interested in attending the Development Centre at Hale End for trials.
There were a number of boys who attended who were gradually whittled down to the last few that were offered contracts – happily I was amongst them. I was ecstatic especially as I was an Arsenal fan. I used to watch and admire Sol Campbell. He had pace and power. I also like to learn from the modern centre backs like Thiago Silva.
Another area that’s good for my development is playing for England. It’s one of my targets for this season to play well enough for Arsenal to ensure I am selected for the under- 17s European Championships. I really enjoy tournament football because it teaches you so much more.
We won the Montaign Tournament by beating France 3-1 in the final and the fact it was in their backyard made it even more special. Prior to playing for the under- 18s at Arsenal, the games for the younger age groups are not officially competitive matches, which made the England games I played as a schoolboy even more important for my development as they were all about getting points or progressing in tournaments.
These matches taught me how to better manage games. When you are 1-0 up with ten minutes to go, you learn how to keep the lead and win the game which perhaps in friendly games is less of a priority than the development of players.
The other aspect of international football is playing against different styles of play and players. African teams tend to be very athletic for example and South Americans technically gifted – you learn to adapt your approach accordingly.
That all helps me improve as a better player for Arsenal so that I can one day achieve my dream of playing for the team I love.
Three of each
...positions I can play in
Just two, centre back and left back
...best aspects of my game
Pace, strength and communication
...things I can improve on
Heading, diagonals and my right foot
...players I’m similar to
Vincent Kompany, Laurent Koscielny and Eliaquim Mangala
Sol Campbell, Rio Ferdinand and Yaya Toure
Spaghetti bolognaise, pasta bake, curry goat
...best friends in football
Theo Campbell, Keanan Bennettsand Tyler Roberts
...choices for your squad number
4, 5 or 6
...most used apps
Instagram and Sky Sports
...favourite TV series
Prison Break and The Flash
...tracks on my ultimate playlist
Drake – The Motto, Legend and Trophies
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