Mikel Arteta says his decision to hand Ethan Nwaneri his Arsenal debut was a ‘gut decision’ after the teenager made a good impression during first team training this week.
The midfielder, aged just 15 years and 181 days, was given a run-out in stoppage time of the Gunners’ 3-0 win at Brentford, and in the process became the club’s and the Premier League’s youngest ever player as well as the youngest to feature in any of Europe’s top five leagues.
“It was a pure gut feeling,” reflected Arteta in his post-game press conference.
“I met the boy, I really liked what I saw. Obviously, Per and all the academy staff are giving me really good information about him, Edu as well.
“I met him, he’s trained a couple of times with us, yesterday he had to come because we have all the injuries, especially the injury of Martin [Odegaard].
“Then I had a feeling from yesterday that if the opportunity could come, I was going to do it [give him his debut]. I’ve just done it.
He added: “It’s another step, an experience in your career. Not all the steps are going to be forward. After that, maybe he needs three backwards to go another one forward. But I think he deserves it and, as well, it sends a strong message about who we are as a club.”
On whether he said anything to the youngster prior to the game, Arteta joked: “First thing, it’s better not to tell them, just throw them there and see what happens.
“I told him yesterday that he was going to be with us and that I want him to experience how it is to be in the hotel, to do the preparation of the game, to be around the boys and that he had to be ready.
“If you’re on the bench, you have to be ready. The boy has a look in his eyes and he’s ready.”
Arteta also revealed his only instructions as he sent Nwaneri on for Bukayo Saka were, “Congratulations and enjoy it.”
In breaking so many records, it’s clear that the youngster will now be in the media spotlight and will likely have to deal with the added pressure that comes with that. Arteta was asked if he’ll subsequently have to take a personal interest in him.
“No, all the decisions that we take, that I take, is for the club. It’s not for me or the player, it’s because we believe that he has a talent that has to be developed incredibly in the next two to three years.
“We’ll see how we manage that. The boy will dictate. Normally, it’s not us, normally the players tell you and demand you and it’s how far you can go with that.”