The youngest player in English top-flight history is a Hale End graduate, and that is a source of great pride for Per Mertesacker and everyone involved in the academy.
In fact, Ethan Nwaneri broke several records when he came on – aged 15 years and 181 days – in the last minute of our 3-0 win away to Brentford. It made him our youngest ever player in all competitions, nearly a full year younger than Cesc Fabregas was when he made his debut aged 16 and 177 days in the League Cup against Rotherham United back in October 2003.
He also surpassed Harvey Elliot as the youngest Premier League player, and broke a record that had stood since August 1964 – the youngest player in all of top-flight football in this country. That was held by Sunderland’s Derek Foster, whom Ethan beat by just three days.
By placing his faith in the England under-17 international, Mikel Arteta has once again reiterated his faith in the club’s youth policy, and academy manager Per said it has had a positive knock-on effect throughout the age groups.
“Mikel gave everyone a powerful message,” he said. “I have to say how much it trickled down. I’ve seen videos of the under-9, under-10 squads cheering Ethan on at Hale End when he came on. Players that would start the same journey as he did, in the grassroots academy, were cheering him on. So all of a sudden he has been escalated to be a role model and a positive influence for young players.
“It’s just brilliant to see, that’s what we are proud of, that we can show progression, that we can show pathways. It was a very proud moment, first of all for himself and his family. It’s a reflection as well of what this club is about, what the academy is about.
“A lot of youngsters entering the academy have the dream of playing for Arsenal Football Club and he made that dream come true. It was a proud moment for us as an academy.”
While Cesc was our previous youngest player, he didn’t hold that honour for us in the Premier League. That was set by Jack Wilshere, aged 16 and 256 days, when he made his debut against Blackburn Rovers in 2008. Now of course, Jack is head coach of our under-18 side, the age group that Ethan has recently stepped up to.
“We need to give a lot of credit to everyone at Hale End,” Jack said. “Everyone that’s helped him and supported him over the years. There are some people who are really proud, and I’m one of them, but I’ve been around for a couple of months, and a little bit last season.
“So let’s thank everyone down at Hale End for their support and their hard work. Now he’s part of my team, one of my players, so I will give him all the support and guidance he needs."
And Jack, having trodden this path himself, is one of those around him who can help guide him, especially as the media spotlight inevitably intensifies.
“One thing that I learnt pretty quickly - maybe not quickly enough but looking back now I realise it - is there are a lot of people at the club who have his best interests at heart,” Jack added.
“He has to listen to them. He has to somehow block out the noise. I know he has a good family around him, which was important in my case as well. Keep his feet on the ground. But he is the type of kid that will do that. He’s a really driven boy.
“I think that [giving young players a chance] is part of the tradition of Arsenal Football Club.
“It was a big day for the whole club and hopefully we can use it as inspiration for the boys at Hale End, but also for the boys here who get to experience training every day and trying to push with our first team.”
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