Do you know any 18-year-olds who would give up their social lives to help their younger brother achieve his dream? I do: my older brother.
He sacrificed so much to get me to where I am today. Going to parties on a Friday night? He’d be making sure I was getting enough rest before the weekend’s early starts. Seeing friends the following day? He’d be taking me to and from matches on the train. Getting me to late kick-offs, early kick-offs, making sure I went for jogs, keeping me grounded – my brother was dedicated to helping me become the professional I am now.
But it’s not just him, my whole family have sacrificed a lot. When I was growing up, I used to have loads of Thierry jerseys hanging on my wall. My mum used to work really hard to buy those shirts so when I got one I could wear, I used to have it on every day. School, parties, playing football with my friends… if I you saw me around London in those days, I’d be reppin’ Henry’s famous 14.
I never thought the day would come where people had my name on the back of their shirt but since I’ve broken into the first team, I’ve seen a few on matchdays around the Emirates and obviously in the dressing room, too. When you see your name hanging there with all the other footballers in the dressing room, it just makes you so proud.
Obviously I’ve dished out a load of my shirts to friends and family but I made sure that my mum and brother got the first ones. They’ve been on this journey with since day one and me making my senior debut was a real family achievement, it felt like all the hard work had paid off.
I remember being in the dressing room ahead of the Community Shield match against Chelsea and not really knowing what to do. I was a bit nervous and I didn’t know whether to pass the ball fast or dribble when I came on, but the boys just told me to play my normal game, pass it, move it and if I did that I would be fine.
Coming on at Wembley was mad but I love playing under pressure. I think that’s one of my main attributes, playing in front of a big crowd, because that’s when I think I perform the best I’d say. That’s the type of person I am I think. A lot of people expect a lot of big things from every player playing for Arsenal because it’s such a big team, but I’ve been preparing for this my whole life.
I was only nine years old when I was first spotted by Arsenal. Back then, I would wake up early to get the train to Catford with my brother three times a week. I was there for about two months playing for a team called Moonshot and then I actually got scouted by Tottenham.
I was at Tottenham for three or four weeks, and then a phonecall from Arsenal came and I went to Arsenal’s training ground. After the first session, they wanted to sign me so happy days. I didn’t look back.
Since then, I’ve given my all for this club. All the coaches at Arsenal have helped me a lot, even from my early days at Hale End as well. It was different to come from Hale End to London Colney. The culture at London Colney is so much different because we have a load of world-class first-team players around.
Alex Iwobi has really helped me and is always making jokes to see if I’m OK. Lacazette is a nice guy as well, Ozil, Hector as well. All of the boys there are great and have really taken me in as a person and a footballer as well.
Two of my best friends are at Arsenal as well so playing with each other at Hale End and now playing on a regular basis for the under-23s, and sometimes even for the first team, is just really good. We’ve all had different journeys and I think Eddie Nketiah had a great home debut by scoring two goals against Norwich City, so we always ask him how it felt.
Joe Willock’s been excellent as well and I think he’s dominated the midfield every time he’s been given the opportunity. Myself, I’m just playing my game so hopefully we can all grow together and get into that first team. I’m willing to just put the hard work in for a start and I think that’s the main thing. Once you've got the hard work the other attributes will come.
My first-team experience so far has been a massive learning curve, but spending last season around the squad has only made me hungrier for more.
It’s also made me more of a man. Most young boys at my age would rather be doing anything other than looking after their family or chasing their dreams, but I love helping out as much as I can.
My brother has a son now, so I look after him as well as my other young relatives, just trying to do what my brother showed me by being a role model and taking care of the family. After all, without them, there’s no way I’d be where I am now.
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