Throughout the season, we'll be catching up with our young Gunners to find out more about their route to our academy. This week, it's Hubert Graczyk who chats about his experience of travelling with the first-team to Dubai, and analysing goalkeepers at the World Cup.
I have just got back from the mid-season training camp in Dubai with the first-team squad, and it was such a great experience for me. I was one of three young goalkeepers out there with Karl Hein and James Hillson before Matt Turner and Aaron Ramsdale returned from the World Cup.
Being involved like that is something you aim for. It’s part of being integrated into the squad. I know I’ve got a long way to secure my place here, but it’s a really good step to take, training with the first-team every day for a longer period.
It was a great experience. Obviously the keepers are always together, but a few of the first-team players like Rob Holding, Kieran Tierney and Alex Zinchenko were great with me too. Everyone is really welcoming though, and it’s a really good group of players that bond together.
The main difference between going away with the first-team compared to being with the under-21s is that they travel on planes and we usually get the coach! But no, to be honest it’s pretty similar. The routines are the same, and it’s what we’ve been brought up with already in the Academy.
In the sessions though the level is sharp – very sharp! I think Martin Odegaard is probably the sharpest player I’ve seen in my career so far. What he does in training is just a joke. I don’t know how he does it, but he sees the whole game so quickly. All of them are quality of course, and every detail is there every time.
Maybe with the under-21s we miss things occasionally, but with the first-team everything is looked at. When you receive the ball, they never stand still, and always try to help you out in possession. It makes your job easier.
In the sessions out there we worked on everything. The keepers always go out early to get our work done, about 20 or 30 minutes before the others, and then we join in with the rest of the squad. We helped the strikers pretty much every day, then there might be a phase of play where we don’t see the ball for five minutes, which is a long time in a session. So you have to switch on, and work on concentration. That one moment you switch off could cost you.
There were a couple of friendly games out there too, and it was inspiring to see Karl play so well. He was incredible in that Lyon game, and that was even before saving four penalties in the shootout! For me seeing how Karl has pushed his performance so far to make the staff let him play a couple of games, and obviously making his debut against Brighton – it’s great to see. As a goalkeeper it’s usually a longer journey, so for him to do it at that age, it shows anyone can get a sniff.
We all get on well too, with the coaches as well. Terry Mason was head of the under-21 keepers last year, and he’s now transitioned to the first-team, which is great for us young keepers – he’s made it a smooth transition for us too and he knows what we can do. Inaki [Cana] is very good too – you can have a really honest conversation with him and he will tell you what he thinks.
What I’m particularly working on at the moment is dealing with crosses. That’s a big one for me. I’m not the biggest goalkeeper – I’m 6ft 1in which is on the smaller side for a keeper. They have told me to bold, go for it and they are always pushing me to go higher and higher.
There were some World Cup matches on while we were away, and I obviously watched them looking mainly at the keepers. Wojciech Szczesny did really well for Poland. He’s one I always look to anyway. My dad’s a big Arsenal fan, all my family are Arsenal fans, I grew up an Arsenal fan, so it was always Wojciech and Lukasz Fabianski I looked at. Another ex-Arsenal keeper, Emi Martinez, did well for Argentina too. I was impressed with the Croatian keeper [Dominik Livakovic], Guillermo Ochoa for Mexico as well, of course – he always turns up for the World Cup!
Now we’re back in the UK and I want to carry on what I’m doing. I think I’m playing the games pretty well, so let’s see what it brings. I want to keep developing and I know that whatever the right next step is for me will come.
The few weeks I’ve had with the first-team will give me loads of confidence for the second half of the season. It’s massive for me. Whenever you are around the first-team it gives you a boost and you just want to get better and better.
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