Ethan Nwaneri became the youngest player in Premier League history over the weekend, and there’s been plenty of talk about him since then.

Arsenal's midfielder Ethan Nwaneri reacts during the English Premier League football match between Brentford and Arsenal at the Gtech Community Stadium in London on September 18, 2022. (Photo by IAN KINGTON/AFP via Getty Images)
Arsenal’s midfielder Ethan Nwaneri reacts during the English Premier League football match between Brentford and Arsenal at the Gtech Community Stadium in London on September 18, 2022. (Photo by IAN KINGTON/AFP via Getty Images)

After starting the season with the Arsenal u18s, Ethan Nwaneri was fast-tracked through the u21s and into the first team last weekend, with Mikel Arteta handing the 15-year-old his Premier League debut.

Nwaneri didn’t just become Arsenal’s youngest-ever player, but also the youngest player in Premier League history, and the youngest player in English top-flight history.

After the game, Granit Xhaka suggested Nwaneri was no normal 15-year-old footballer.

“I am doing my coaching license and I have trained [him in] the under-16s,” Xhaka said. “You can see a big difference with him and the other guys.

“He is very, very special. Of course, you have to protect him as he is very young, but if he keeps going like this with his hard work he has a big, big future.

“I spoke with one Brentford guy and I told him this guy was 15 and he looked at me and said: ‘f— me, we are looking old!'”

Ethan Nwaneri following his debut for Arsenal (Photo via Arsenal on Twitter)
Ethan Nwaneri following his debut for Arsenal (Photo via Arsenal on Twitter)

The Arsenal players appear to be doing their best to help Nwaneri settle, with Gabriel Martinelli taking the youngster over to get a round of applause from the fans after his debut.

Arsenal will hope that days like Sunday will help to get Nwaneri to sign a scholarship deal, followed by a professional contract when he (eventually) turns 17.

The Daily Mail report that Arsenal sources view Nwaneri as the next big thing, with all the attributes to make it to the top.

The 15-year-old’s former headmaster told the media they had to take Nwaneri off the pitch when he was 10, because other kids couldn’t get the ball.

As for Arteta, he suggested the drive behind Nwaneri’s debut was a mixture of a positive first impression in training, internal conversations with the academy staff, senior injuries, and a gut feeling.

“It was a feeling that I had yesterday,” Arteta said. “I don’t know why. On the first day, I met him and I looked in his eyes and everything that Per is telling me about him.

“And because of the injuries we only had 12 or 13 senior players yesterday to put in the squad and we decided to bring him and that’s it.

“It was a pure gut feeling. I met the boy. I really liked what I saw. He’s trained with us a couple of times and then I had the feeling from yesterday that if the opportunity could come I was going to do it.”

BRENTFORD, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 18: Ethan Nwaneri of Arsenal replaces teammate Fabio Viera during the Premier League match between Brentford FC and Arsenal FC at Brentford Community Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Brentford, England. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
BRENTFORD, ENGLAND: Ethan Nwaneri of Arsenal replaces teammate Fabio Viera during the Premier League match between Brentford FC and Arsenal FC at Brentford Community Stadium on September 18, 2022. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Arteta did also urge some caution, adding: “All the steps are not going to be forward. Maybe he’ll need to go three steps back to go forward.”

One roadblock is that Nwaneri can’t feature in the Europa League group stage for Arsenal this season. UEFA rules only allow 16-year-olds at the youngest, and even then they must have been with the relevant club for the previous two years without interruption.

That means Nwaneri will first be eligible for the Europa League in March, on his 16th birthday. That rules out the group stage, the knockout round play-offs, and the round-of-16.

There have been rumours of interest in Nwaneri from other top Premier League clubs, unsurprisingly, so it’s frustrating Arsenal can’t use the Europa League group stage to help cement the player’s future in north London.

TheSecretScout reports that Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, and Chelsea are all looking to sign the youngster, and big-six clubs in the north of England have been linked with the teenager all year.

But it’s hard to see where Nwaneri would get a better pathway. The stats speak for themselves.

No club in English top-flight history have given a player their league debut at a younger age.

Few clubs in the Premier League have a starting lineup as young as Arsenal’s this season, with Arteta’s seven lineups all in the 14 youngest by average age. Only Southampton (with six of the remaining seven youngest lineups) come close.

A technical midfielder with intelligence, vision, and the skill to execute that vision, Nwaneri could well have a big future. Particularly at Arsenal, a club willing to give chances to young players.

For now, after another call-up from the England u17s over the international break, he’ll probably return to the u21s to continue to develop his game. One of those backward steps Arteta mentioned that are necessary to progress.

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Arsenal fan since a young age, now a season ticket holder who enjoys writing, tweeting and making videos about the Gunners.