Matt Turner admits that had you told him this time last year that he’d be playing European football for the team he supports, he wouldn’t have believed you.
But fast-forward 12 months and there he was, charging around his goalmouth at Emirates Stadium, fists clenched celebrating the goals that beat Bodo/Glimt in the Europa League. It was the reaction of a Gooner playing for the club they love, living a dream come true.
Now an ever-present in our continental campaign, the American shot-stopper will once again be itching to walk out in his new home against PSV Eindhoven in a crunch game that will go a long way to deciding who tops the group.
“Any time you get to step out onto the field is a real treat,” he said. “You work really hard during the week, and to get opportunities to play - and for me personally to show how much I’ve grown as a player and a goalkeeper - is really nice. Obviously, playing for this great club is an honour, and something I don’t take for granted. It’s been really, really great.”
Matt’s route to north London has been far from straight-forward. He only took up football aged 14, filling in as a keeper because a teammate got injured during tryouts. He played at college level for Fairfield University, but was ready to walk away for a career in business before impressing during a trial at New England Revolution, who made him their third-choice custodian.
The climb from there was gradual, but the past two years have been littered with accolades. First came the Revs’ players’ and fans’ Player of the Year awards in 2020, followed by the first of 20 caps for the USA in January 2021. He would help his nation win the Gold Cup later that summer, and then help his club lift the Supporters Shield, being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in the process.
His meteoric rise was complete with his summer move to us, but when prompted whether he could quite believe the position he now finds himself in, he said: “My ego might say yes, but I don’t think I would have been able to see the pathway forward.
“As an American player I didn’t think it was possible, or that someone with my playing history might have found it a bit more difficult to make a move like this happen, so to play meaningful minutes for a club like Arsenal is truly special.
“I believed I could play at this level, but I just didn’t know that the pathway was possible. It is nice to think about it, and it puts things into perspective every time you step out on the field.”
"You want the fans to love you because you were one"
The path leading Matt to becoming a Gooner was as unconventional as his playing career, but like many of our supporters across the Atlantic, once he was bitten by the bug, his fandom and dedication knew no bounds - especially time differences.
Taking up the tale, he revealed: “It was after the World Cup in 2010 and I bought my first video game. When it says: ‘what club do you want to support or select?’, obviously ‘A’ came up first, and Arsenal was there! But also, I made that connection because my sisters both played for a local club team that was called The Arsenal, and so I just kind of stuck with it.
“I would get up nice and early, depending on when the kick-off was. The 12.30pm kick-off here was 7.30am [in the US], so anytime Arsenal were playing, I was doing my best to watch. As I got a bit older, I got into the pub culture in New York City, and I have been around the fans for those types of atmospheres as well.”
Matt believes that explains his energetic and emotional responses to when the goals go in at the other end of the field to his, but also that it’s just part of his character - a humble, down-to-earth guy enjoying the career progression that has handed him a platform to influence matches and bring joy to his fellow Gooners.
“That's how I play - I wear my heart on my sleeve,” he added. “I don’t hide away from anything. If I mess up, I tell you, and if I do well – I don't usually like to say that I’ve done well but I like to celebrate big moments. I think that shows that I want to do what's best for the team, whether I'm on the pitch playing in the starting XI or on the sidelines.
"My dreams came true, and I get to represent this club every single day"
“You want to step out and you want the fans to love you because you were one. You understand the feeling of what it's like to be a fan. I found the same with the national team – I was a fan for the US national team before I was a player. Because of that experience, I knew that for me coming here and being myself was my best way forward.
“I'm a really relatable person who has a relatable story to a lot of people in this life. Luckily my dreams came true, and I get to represent this club every single day.”
Hear much more from Matt, including his World Cup hopes and banter with our England players, by watching his pre-PSV press conference above
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