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 Ilias Chatzitheodoridis.
Having spent 18 months in England as a scholar, I really feel that I’ve settled down well and am able to keep improving every day.
When I first came over it was quite tough. I appreciate that I was only 12 years old when I moved from my family home to live at the Arsenal Academy in Greece, but the main thing was the surroundings and language were familiar to me, especially when the academy moved from Athens to my home town of Thessaloniki.
"I am aware of the importance of the FA Youth Cup, but because it is a knock out competition, winning is everything whereas in under-18 games, there is more of an emphasis on performance"
I had a lot to take in. The faster, more physical football, the language, new country, new cultures. It took some getting used to and I feel at home now. Although it was quite tough at first, one of my highlights came quite early on.
I wasn’t able to play for the under-18s when I first came over as we were waiting for the paperwork to be completed. That meant that I couldn’t fully be part of the academy and so on a few occasions I found myself training with some of the first-team players. Training with the likes of Jack Wilshere, Francis Coquelin, and Lukas Podolski was a real thrill for me and eye opener as to the technical quality.
They were at such a high level in training and as a result I feel I was able to raise my game too, even though I only had a couple of sessions with them. When I eventually was able to formally become part of the academy I had to adjust to the football, the pace and physicality and I believe my game has developed tremendously.
I feel I’m faster with and without the ball now, I am physically stronger and tougher in the tackle and my reading of the game has improved. Some players are better readers of a game than others, but I believe that it’s an area that every player can develop by focusing in training and using what you learn in games.
As your experience develops, so does the ability to read the game. To understand how a move may develop, what run is going to be made or should be made. That is a big part of what I have developed at Arsenal even though people say that was one of my strengths even before I joined.
I was a regular with the under-18s last season and have been this season too. As a team we are more settled. The team that plays on Saturdays tends to have trained together all week and that, I believe, has been a big factor as to why we have had improved performances and results this year.
It also shows that many of us have benefited from the experience of last year too. I aim to play for the under-21 and under-19 Champions League side this year and I am working hard to be considered for the FA Youth Cup team as well.
I am aware of the importance of the FA Youth Cup, but because it is a knock out competition, winning is everything whereas in under-18 games, there is more of an emphasis on performance, although, of course we always play to win and we have done quite well with results in the league this year.
The first team are doing well in the league. I think that we can go all the way and although we would have preferred the three points against Southampton, I think that loss was an important lesson that will help us keep focused for every game for the rest of the season.
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