“I was very nervous but I wanted to take one. It was a good chance for me to prove I can handle the pressure. I was so happy to score it.”
Those are the contrasting emotions almost every footballer must feel when deliberating over whether to make that dreaded walk from the halfway line to the penalty spot. There are some players who opt to shy away from the spotlight of a shoot-out, but not Kris Olsson.
As Arsenal’s Capital One Cup third-round tie was heading to extra time, Arsène Wenger sent on the Swedish youngster to provide a much-needed energy boost to the Gunners’ midfield.
“It was the best moment of my career so far. It was an amazing experience,” says Kris as we sit just behind the players’ dugout on a sunny autumnal evening at Emirates Stadium. “When you get that taste of playing in the first team you just want more of it. It was such a big boost to be around the senior players and play at a big stadium in a cup game. West Brom put out a strong team against us - they only rested a few players so we showed we can adapt to the top level quickly."
The teams couldn’t be separated in 120 minutes after Thomas Eisfeld’s opener was cancelled out by Saido Berahino, and Arsenal were on the brink of going out of the competition when the 18-year-old stepped up to take Arsenal’s third kick. But the Swede calmly slotted past Luke Daniels to make the score 3-2 and in the blink of an eye Arsenal were through to the fourth round.
It has been something of a breakthrough year for Olsson. After signing his first professional contract with the Club in the summer of 2012, the creative midfielder put in a number of impressive displays for the under-21s and played an integral part in the run to the NextGen Series semi-finals. But it hasn’t been all plain sailing since the youngster moved to north London from IFK Norrkoping in 2011. Olsson was hampered by injury during his first campaign with the Club and admits it was a tough time.
“When I got injured in my first season I started to miss my family and my friends,” he says. “At that time, football was all I had in England so when I wasn’t playing I felt a bit lonely. But looking back it definitely helped me to get stronger and when I got back from the injury I just felt stronger than ever.
"At that time, football was all I had in England so when I wasn’t playing I felt a bit lonely. But looking back it definitely helped me to get stronger"
“My family helped me a lot during that period. I spoke to them almost every day. My landlady, Bobbie, helped me a lot as well - she is probably my best friend in England. And my team-mates were also there for me. There were a couple of other players who had injuries and we went through the recovery process together.”
Reflecting on his arrival in London, Olsson reveals another pressure situation he had to overcome to earn a contract and his motives for opting to join the Gunners when other clubs were circling around the sought-after Swede. “Arsenal contacted me through my agent when I was 15. He told me they wanted to give me a trial so I came here in November 2010. I did quite well in my trial so they asked me to come back after Christmas and I did quite well again.
"After that they told me they wanted to sign me. A week later my family came over and I signed for the Club in the summer of 2011. Some other clubs wanted me to go on trial with them but I felt like Arsenal was the right club to join. I was just very happy when I got everything signed here. Everything was very big for me when I moved to London.
“I came from quite a small club in Sweden and when I saw some of the first-team players at the training ground I was a bit starstruck, but after a while you get used to it and now I’m fine with it all and life is good.”
On that late September evening in the west Midlands, Olsson became the fifth Swedish midfielder to play for Arsenal after Anders Limpar, Stefan Schwarz, Sebastian Larsson and Freddie Ljungberg.
“I liked Freddie when I was a kid, although I wouldn’t say he was my idol or favourite player,” Olsson admits. “But it did help me a bit to see other Swedish players like Freddie, Anders Limpar and Stefan Schwarz had made a career here. I remember watching Freddie score the second goal in the FA Cup final against Chelsea. It was amazing to see some of the players like Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and obviously Freddie. I’ve trained with Robert as well, which was pretty unbelievable.
“Arsenal are very well known in Sweden, especially when they won the league three times in seven years. They have a lot of fans in Sweden - more than I thought when I first joined. They are probably one of the most popular clubs back home."
Olsson, who has an eye for a pass and was recently praised by Arsène Wenger for his technical ability, looks back on last season as a vital period in his development. “I felt more like a senior player of the academy. I felt more mature. The defensive side of my game got better and I developed more of a professional attitude on the pitch. I started to recognise my offensive and defensive duties as a central midfielder. I used to think I could play in the No 10 role but I realised I needed to play more like a No 8. I really worked on the technical side of my game. My passing, my first touch and also my left foot were areas where I really improved.”
It’s easy to see that Olsson is mature for his age and has intelligently assessed his undoubted but still unproven potential. Now that he’s been teased by the lure of first-team action, he admits his sole focus is on football. “As a team we sometimes socialise off the pitch but there are times where I like to relax by myself. I hang around with Ryan Huddart and Jamal [Raage], who is Swedish, Deyan [Iliev] as well.
"I really worked on the technical side of my game. My passing, my first touch and also my left foot were areas where I really improved"
“I don’t need company all the time, whereas some people do. But as I said I like to just chill by myself sometimes because you are always focusing on football and you’re concentrating on that for a long time.”
The midfielder captained the under-19s in their 4-1 win over Marseille in the newly formed Uefa Youth League and believes the Gunners can go one step further than reaching the last four in the NextGen Series. “There are a lot of benefits to the Youth League this season. It was a great experience to travel with the first team and play against teams from different countries who adopt different tactics. I like to go away and play football instead of always playing in England.
"Playing in Europe is very different to the under-21 league in England, especially when you go away. You play in very different stadiums to what you are used to and we did that last year when we went to Bilbao. You felt so small on the pitch and it was a really good experience. It’s good to travel abroad to play football matches because it will hopefully prepare me to play Champions League football one day.”
It’s certainly been a busy few months for Olsson, not just for Arsenal but for his national team as well. When we spoke, the midfielder was gearing himself up for three games in six days for Sweden Under-19s. They won just one of their three games in 2013 but Olsson remains convinced that Swedish football has a bright future.
Read the interview with Kris and more in the latest edition
“Some players who I play with in the national team play for the first teams of clubs back home. But the standard is not the same as in England,” he says. “The under-21 league here is probably on the same level as the second division in Sweden. But the level is rising at home. But there are some good players in the under-19s who are playing for clubs in Germany and Italy so Sweden are getting better all the time.”
With the talent, and most certainly the temperament, to excel at the very highest level, Kris can be confident of heading the vanguard of gifted young footballers for both club and country.
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