In Young Guns, featured first in the official matchday programme, we find out about the next generation of Arsenal youngsters, in their own words. Next, we speak to goalkeeper Arthur Okonkwo.
The only position I’ve ever played is goalkeeper. I began as a seven-year-old at Hampstead Academy and then with a club called Lindus Park. While I was with them the coach arranged for me to have a trial at Arsenal and I’ve been a Gunner ever since.
I tried playing outfield but it wasn’t for me. I enjoyed the thrill of making saves – the more spectacular the better. I suppose that’s why I like watching David De Gea play more than others. He’s an instinctive goalkeeper who makes fantastic reaction saves, although I do watch all goalkeepers to see what I can learn.
I’ll watch a game and enjoy the overall play, but I scrutinise what the keepers do in more detail. Although there’s no particular keeper I look to learn from I’m lucky to be around someone like Petr Cech, who makes an effort to help me develop.
I’m looking to improve all aspects of my play, but particularly my left foot. I like the different drills, and my favourite is the crossbar challenge. I start off trying to hit the bar with my left foot from the penalty spot, then move five or ten yards further back, and then move back again. That helps me develop power and accuracy.
At under-18 level we’ve had a reasonable start to the season. I was with the Under-23s during the first Under-18s game of the season, but I then played in the next three games when we beat Brighton 3-0 and Leicester 7-0 before, unfortunately, we lost 3-1 to Chelsea. Since then we’ve beaten Southampton 1-0 and Norwich City 5-1. I’ve also been away with the England Under-18s and we beat Russia 3-0, so I’m reasonably pleased with four clean sheets out of six.
I’ve worked with the first team and I enjoy being in goal for their shooting practice, which helps me improve. I think the player with the hardest shot I’ve faced is Granit Xhaka.
I’ve always been tall and that may be a factor as to why I became a goalkeeper. I’m now 16 and over 6ft 5in. I think I’ve stopped growing now, though. Arsenal did some tests where they measure wrist size, wing span and other things, and at 14 and 15 I had apparently grown to 99.6% of my potential height. I don’t expect another growth spurt.
When I look back at how I’ve developed as a player I can see vast improvements, particularly in my understanding on the role technically and tactically. Now that I’m full time that development has accelerated.
Much has been made about the emphasis the new manager has on the team playing out from the back, and that filters down to all the teams. I enjoy the demands. We have to work more with our outfield players on positioning and it seems to be going well.
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