TEAMtalk can confirm Arsenal confounded expectations when fending off strong interest from Chelsea and Man City in Ethan Nwaneri, while Mikel Arteta’s immediate plans for the record-breaker have come to light.
Nwaneri became the youngest player to feature in a Premier League match when appearing off the bench during Arsenal’s 3-0 victory over Brentford on September 18.
The talented youngster was aged just 15 years and 181 days at the time, though the bigger story was developing off the field.
Indeed, the Athletic subsequently claimed all three of Man Utd, Man City and Chelsea were sizing Nwaneri up.
Ultimately, Arsenal were able to convince Nwaneri they were the place to be, with the teen prodigy committing his future to the Gunners in late-June.
Nwaneri has signed scholarship terms with Arsenal and has agreed to pen a professional deal when turning 17. The breakthrough came with a huge sigh of relief at the Emirates, especially as many within the game believed Nwaneri would depart.
Indeed, speaking exclusively to TEAMtalk, Arsenal insider, Charles Watts, revealed the full extent of Arsenal’s coup.
Chelsea and Man City “did everything they could”
Watts told TEAMtalk: “Chelsea and Manchester City did everything they could to turn his head, not just his head, to turn him and everyone around him, which is the way of the world obviously, when it comes to signing these players now.
“There’s so much competition to get the best young talents in English football, and it looked for a long time like he was going to go.
“Everyone that you spoke to in and around football and various agents who have players around the youth teams… it was pretty well believed he was going to be heading off either to Chelsea or Man City.
“And so for Arsenal to keep him, to convince him, again says a lot about where the club is at the moment, that they’ve managed to keep hold of their best young talents.
“And that I know they are absolutely delighted to keep hold of him and to be able to bat away the interest of Chelsea and Man City to keep him.”
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But while Arsenal are understandably thrilled at retaining Nwaneri, it’s unlikely we’ll see the youngster turn out for the first-team next season.
Watts noted a Europa League campaign might’ve afforded Nwaneri a chance to shine. However, the Gunners will compete in the tougher Champions League next year.
Furthermore, the rapid rise in standards throughout Arsenal’s entire squad during Arteta’s reign is likely to see Nwaneri held back. While the likes of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe were handed early-career chances, Nwaneri will have to remain patient.
“There’s huge excitement over him and Myles Lewis-Skelly as well who has just come through as a first-year scholar in the same batch as him,” continued Watts.
“They’ve only just got into the under-18s team, they’ve played a couple of under-21s games. I think for a lot of these youngsters, it’s going to be really hard now.
“Saka, Smith Rowe, Nketiah, they benefited from Arsenal being at rock bottom when they were coming through. They got their opportunity and they seized it.
“Now, the levels increase so massively in such a short space of time for these young players, where are they going to get the opportunities? It’s a challenge that they face.
“And I’ve spoken to Per Mertesacker last year, to Jack Wilshere about it last year. They say the first team raises the level so we have to raise the level of the Academy to get the players in there.
“So Arteta will give them a chance at some point. But I think next season might be a little bit too early for them. Had Arsenal been in the Europa League, that could have given them a little bit more of an opportunity. But 16 is very, very young.
“Because they’re already pretty big names, and certainly Nwaneri because of what he did in breaking the record, you forget just how young and how small they are.
“I was at the youth team final last year and they’re literally kids. It’s a big ask but Arsenal will certainly do what’s best by them.
“Now the focus will be on continuing the development, keeping them away from the headlines, progressing well and giving them the best opportunity to make it but I think next year might be a little bit too early.”