Throughout the season, we'll be catching up with our young Gunners to find out more about their route to our academy. This week, Daniel Oyetunde discusses his earliest football memories, signing for Arsenal, and developing under older players.
I grew up in the Waltham Abbey area near Enfield, and when I was younger I’d constantly pester my dad to take me to the park to play football and practise. Football brings me an underlying peace and it allows me to express myself using my feet.
I have to admit I’ve been a Chelsea supporter my whole life and my earliest football memory was the 2012 Champions League semi-final between Chelsea and Barcelona where Torres scored that goal. It’s an iconic moment given that we went on to win the Champions League. As a Chelsea fan and striker, I looked up to the likes of Didier Drogba – he was such a brilliant striker and a big-game player who will always be remembered for his clutch goals. However, I also watched a lot of Thierry Henry’s highlights and was just amazed at how good he was in his prime. I try to mould my game on both Drogba and Henry.
At the age of six, I joined my first Sunday League team in my local area and I also played up front for my school team. I enjoyed my time in the Sunday Leagues because it allowed me to grow and develop as a player.
"My first Arsenal goal came against Tottenham, who hadn't offered me a contract two years prior!"
The move to Arsenal came about when I was in Year 9. I’d been playing for Cheshunt FC and we won the league that season with me scoring plenty of goals – what a great season that was! After that, I had a few academies interested in seeing me play, including Arsenal. They offered to let me train with one of the scouts in a one-on-one session and then I started an eight-week trial with Arsenal under-15s in time for their pre-season.
I wasn’t too nervous because I’d been on trial at Tottenham a year earlier so I knew what to expect. Even though I was never offered a contract there, it gave me the opportunity to experience the level of ability I needed to have if I wanted to succeed at an academy.
My trial here started off on the right footing. In our first game against Crystal Palace, I managed to get two assists and then within four weeks of my eight-week trial, I was offered a contract at the club.
When I got to Hale End it felt good to know that I was playing for a big club. A particular memory that stands out is my first goal for Arsenal, which came in a north London derby against Tottenham. We won the game 2-1 and I also got an assist – it’s ironic given that a couple of years prior to that Tottenham hadn't offered me a contract.
The moment leading up to finding out my scholarship decision was quite nerve-wrecking. I was one of the last on my team to get my decision, so I saw a few of my teammates find out if they were getting a scholarship or being released at the end of the season. However, I tried not to think about it too much and just carried on scoring goals at under-16 level. Then on the day, I went into a meeting with my dad that included the Arsenal staff of Adam Pilling, Luke Hobbs and Mark Walters. When they told me the good news I was relieved but also very excited and it came at a good time because it was the week before our trip to Brazil. It was my first time in Brazil and it’s a beautiful country. It was such a great experience playing against South and North American teams.
"When I first arrived as an under-18s scholar, I was starstruck"
I’d been to London Colney before as an under-16 to train with the under-18s, but when I first arrived as an official under-18s scholar I was starstruck. I’m literally seeing first-team players that I see on TV each week live in the flesh. After a certain amount of time, you get used to them being there, but it’s inspiring to see them because we can look up to them and learn little habits and skills from them.
I’ve trained with the under-21s numerous times now and it’s a higher level than the under-18s. The game is a lot more physical and demanding. I actually made my debut for them when I was an under-16 in the Premier League Cup against Burnley. That was a good week for me because I made my under-18s debut against Fulham on the preceding Saturday, and then my under-21s debut against Burnley on the Wednesday after.
Having Jack Wilshere and Adam Birchall as coaches is top-class – they know the game inside out and their insight is incredible. They know the dos and don’ts of football and have worked with top players before. I know that I can go to high places with them coaching me.
This season I scored against West Ham on the opening day and it was a brilliant feeling to get up and running on the scoresheet. By the end of the season, I want to get double-figure goals as well as play higher up, whether that be in the UEFA Youth League or for the under-21s.
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