Feature

Joao Virginia

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 time we spoke to midfielder Joao Virginia:

I joined Arsenal from Benfica the summer before last because I met with former goalkeeping coach Tony Roberts, and he showed me that the club knew a lot about me. He highlighted the good parts of my game and the areas I needed work on, and then he set out a plan for my future. Arsenal have shown that they give young players opportunities. At Benfica, I never really had the feeling that there was that consideration. You were simply told to work hard and hopefully one day you would get a chance.

Since I’ve been at Arsenal, I’ve improved in all areas. I’m better technically, physically and mentally. Being at Arsenal has already opened up opportunities – in fact I wasasked to join the Portugal squad for the Olympics as the No 3 goalkeeper. I was with Arsenal in Munich when I was asked. It was a complete surprise and one that I wasso excited about. Arsenal gave me permission because it meant I had to miss much of the early season to go to Rio. At 16 years of age, I was the youngest footballer there!

I didn’t play in any of the games, but it was still an amazing experience, being around and training with more experienced older players and also seeing the Olympic village close up. The whole thing was fantastic. I had to learn to do things quickly and whenI came back I felt a lot sharper. I didn’t have the chance to watch many other sports but did get to see a few high profile athletes around the village.

Hopefully it’s an experience I can repeat if I keep improving. When I came over from Portugal at the beginning of last season, I was in digs and Eddie Nketiah was in thesame house. I was quite young to be coming over, but I’m used to being away from my family because I was11 when I moved to Lisbon from our home in the Algarve, so I could join Benfica. I was used to being on my own and so coming to the UK was notsuch a big move. I now live in a house with my mum and brother, who cameover this summer, and it’s good to have family around. I could speak basic English when I came over and that’s improved since I arrived, which helps a great deal too.

Joao signed a professional deal earlier this year

Joao signed a professional deal earlier this year

I signed my first professional contract with Arsenal last month and that has given me another boost. It is a recognition that Arsenal have faith in me and are investing in my future, which gives you even more incentive to keep trying to raise standards.

Also, being around the senior goalkeepers at Arsenal is very good for my development. Petr Cech takes time to offer me advice on how I can do things better. He was the ‘keeper I’ve always admired the most and when I found out he was joiningArsenal at the same time as me, it was very exciting. I really appreciate the time he spends to help me. I also learn a lot from David Ospina. He has been playing in the Champions League games and I’d say he is a truly modern goalkeeper. He’s not thetallest but his positioning and reading of the game are the reasons why he is so often in the right place to make great saves – his reactions are superb.

I watch what he does closely to bring what he has into my game too. I am looking forward to tonight’s game as the winner is most likely to top the group which has proven important in the past. I think we will win 2-1.

My personal targets for this year are to win the FA Youth Cup. We have a great squad and I really believe we can do it. I would like to start a game for the under-23sbefore the end of the season too, and I’m working hard to do what I can to achieve those goals.

THE LOWDOWN

Who has been the biggest influence on your career? My family

What’s the best aspect of your game? Shot stopping 

And what do you still need to work on? Passing

Which current player would you most like to play against? My former team-mates from Benfica

If you could score any goal from history, which one would it be? Eder’s winner in the Euro 2016 final 

What’s been the greatest moment in your career so far? Being called up by the national team for the Olympics

If you had to sing one song to save your life, what would it be? Casinha, by Xutos e Pentanes

What other sports are you good at? Table tennis, karate, swimming

Which team did you support as a boy? Benfica

Aside from PE, which was your best subject at school? Mathematics and art 

TEAM-MATES

Who has the best sense of humour? Josh Benson

Who is the best at FIFA?Eddie Nketiah

Who has the best turn of pace?Eddie Nketiah

Who has the best ball skills? Ben Sheaf

Who is the best with the ladies? Reiss Nelson Who is the worst at FIFA?Vlad DragomirWho has the worst ball skills? Tolaji BolaWho has the worst taste in music? Kostas Pileas

Joao in UEFA Youth League action

Joao in UEFA Youth League action

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