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One player’s misfortune may turn out to be another’s chance. Even as the Premier League continues to evolve, that old saying remains true.
Well, frankly, it was two Arsenal attacking midfielders who were sadly injured in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Brentford.
Gunners captain Martin Odegaard took a hit in training and was therefore not endangered, while Emile Smith Rowe continues to experience pain in his groin related to growth.
Ethan Nwaneri (second from left) became youngest ever player in Premier League history
The 15-year-old was initially named on the bench for Arsenal at Brentford before he started working
Summer signing Fabio Vieira stepped in and scored a fantastic goal on his full-length debut, but there was still room on Mikel Arteta’s bench. The Spaniard’s ‘gut feeling’ turned out to be a historic choice.
Ethan Nwaneri, aged 15 and 181 days, not only made the bench at the Gtech Community Stadium, but was then taken off the field in the second minute of stoppage time, becoming the youngest Premier League player ever.
Cesc Fabregas was no longer Arsenal’s youngest player in all competitions, as the Spaniard made his first-team debut in a League Cup match against Rotherham in 2003.
The Premier League-era record was previously held by Liverpool midfielder Harvey Elliott, who came on against Wolves three years ago at the age of 16 and 30 days for Fulham.
Mikel Arteta’s ‘gut feeling’ eventually became a historic choice for the Gunners and the league
His volatile performance made him tackle one tackle and hit the ball once in stoppage time
Arsenal’s number 83 even broke former Sunderland player Derek Foster’s record of 15 years and 184 days outside the Premier League era, which was set in August 1964.
Such is the record breaking nature of his appearance, it is not surprising to learn that he was born barely eight months after the official opening of the Emirates Stadium in July 2006.
There was nothing to write home about his short performance itself, one tackle and one touch on the ball. But history had already been made.
Even the feat he accomplished didn’t stop the teen from showing his sheepishness to a raucous support, while seemingly full-time on his way to the tunnel. His teammates didn’t feel like it.
Aaron Ramsdale and Gabriel Martinelli both made sure he was imbued with admiration from the same fans who had used him minutes earlier to taunt the Brentford fans by chanting, “He has school tomorrow!”
Gabriel Martinelli got him the admiration of the traveling Gunners support
A public holiday in the UK due to Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral meant that was factually incorrect, but sooner or later Nwaneri – pronounced ‘Yanieri’ – will return to St John’s Prep and Senior School in Enfield as Student of Year 11.
But first comes international service with England U17, who boarded for a tournament in Poland just hours after making Premier League history.
But just after boarding that plane, he was praised by Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who said: ‘I am so proud of that for Arsenal.
“To get into the team at that stage, some people might think it’s a stunt, but those people – Mikel, Per [Mertesacker]Edu – don’t put him there for fun.
“They’re not just going to bring people in. They think highly of him, he played for the U18 when he was 14.
“What I think this does is send a huge message to the other academy players and show them that they all have a chance to play in that first team.”
Aaron Ramsdale walked him to the Arsenal fans section to taste the acclaim
And as if those spotlights weren’t extreme enough, reports now suggest Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea are all circling and eager to add him to their setup.
It’s a fear the Gunners had that has seemingly been realized. A former unnamed Arsenal coach told VAVEL recently: ‘At the moment we have two U16s where if I had to pick a top ten of all the players I know in the 30 years I’ve been at Arsenal these two would be in my top ten, they are excellent.
“One is a guy named Myles Lewis-Skelly and the other is Ethan Nwaneri, and my biggest concern about them is if we can keep them because I would say all the biggest clubs in the country are sniffing around to get them.
“These two guys are absolutely outstanding, and I would go so far as to say that if they don’t get a chance in the first team in two or three years, we’re all guessing!”
With all that going on, it’s easy to forget that this left-footed, skillful attacking midfielder who can also play at the top is technically still a schoolboy and therefore won’t be getting a scholarship until March 21 next year, the date of his 16th. birthday.
Child protection rules mean he was forced to change into Arsenal’s away kit in a separate room from his teammates, before contacting them before Arteta delivered his last message to the dressing room.
The midfielder’s next assignment is England U17 duty for a tournament taking place in Poland
And all this had come quite quickly too. On Friday evening, he expected to play in the Arsenal U21 match against Wolves.
But a few hours later he was told he was training with Mikel Arteta’s men before interacting with them at the team hotel, now no longer in the U21 squad.
So what caught the Spaniard’s attention? Many have been dubbed Hale End’s so-called “next big thing” and failed to make it to the mark, so it’s unlikely his reputation in the academy was adequate, no matter how glowing Mertesacker’s words about him were.
Perhaps during training with the first team he showed the ‘championship mentality’ that former Gunners U18 coach Dan Micciche alluded to when he highlighted the youngster’s disappointment that he failed to score in a game against Reading in February, despite providing two assists.
However, he managed to score on his U18 debut against the same opponent in May last year, and a U21 debut also came in Premier League 2 earlier this month against Blackburn.
He registered one of three assists he has provided against them this season, with the other two against Fulham U18s and their Spurs counterparts.
Nwaneri put in an impressive performance against the Spurs U18s for Jack Wilshere’s side
It was in that North London derby where he chose to deliver a masterful display and record a superb assist for Omai Benjamin with the outside of his foot.
It was something the U18 boss Jack Wilshere would have been proud of, even if he hadn’t added in retrospect to score the final goal of the 4-1 win.
The former England U16 international’s only other goalscoring contribution so far this season came at U17 international level with a goal against the Faroe Islands.
But they had all been warned about his magical feet before the season even started.
Slough Town boss Neil Baker said in pre-season after a friendly against the Gunners: ‘Their number 10 has great feet, he’s just a real youngster’.
He is a great hope for them at Arsenal. He has absolutely incredible abilities.”
It may be that immense ability that veteran Gunners midfielder Granit Xhaka tries to help nurture by taking him under his wing.
He also put in an impressive performance against Blackburn for the U21s this month
Or perhaps the Swiss was simply given the job of showing Nwaneri how to use his talent to make the biggest jump of them all, and for someone who has played through all age groups at Arsenal, the most important to date.
Whatever the reason, it ties in with the following statement Arteta made after the West London win.
“All the decisions we make and I make are for the club. It’s not for me, it’s not for the player, it’s because we believe he has a talent that needs to be incredibly developed over the next two or three years.
“We’ll see how we manage that, but the boy will dictate. Normally it’s not us, normally the players tell you and demand from you how far you can go.
“It was a pure gut feeling,” he added. “When I met him, when I look at him, I had that feeling. I really liked what I saw.
“Per Mertesacker and the academy staff give me very good information, Edu too. I met him, he trained with us a few times.
Granit Xhaka has taken Nwaneri under his wing to help him fulfill his early potential
“Yesterday he had to come because we have injuries, especially Martin’s injury, and then I had the feeling from yesterday that if the opportunity arose I would do it and I just did it.
“I told him yesterday that he would be with us and that I want him to experience what it is like to be at the hotel, to do a pre-game preparation to be with the boys and to be ready .
“If you want to sit on that bench, you have to be ready. The boy just looks into your eyes and he’s done. [When he was coming on I said] just congratulations and enjoy.’
From the celebrations, enjoy it, he certainly did. Now similar appearances at the back of the Europa League group stage could be a possibility once the Gunners have sealed progress.
Furthermore, a season more in youth football in combination with training of the first team could precede a loan. Either way, he won’t be soon forgotten.