Arsenal talent Ethan Nwaneri is the youngest debutant in Premier League history at the age of 15. How it came about – and why goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale intervened courageously afterwards.
The word was already out that a special player was causing a stir in Arsenal’s talent factory and leapfrogging generations. But what happened on Sunday was something no one had seen coming.
Arsenal led 3-0 at Brentford FC in stoppage time and had their defence of the league lead in the bag when manager Mikel Arteta unceremoniously did something historic: in the 92nd minute he substituted Ethan Nwaneri, now the youngest Premier League debutant in history at 15 years and 181 days.
Arsenal fans savour Nwaneri moment – thanks in part to Ramsdale
“He’s got school in the morning,” the Arsenal fans chanted enthusiastically, and had their goalkeeper to thank for allowing them to celebrate Nwaneri properly after the final whistle: Aaron Ramsdale prevented the attacking midfielder from humbly disappearing into the players’ tunnel, instead taking him outside the visitors’ block.
“It was pure gut feeling,” Arteta later explained the history-making substitution. On Saturday, Nwaneri had trained with the professionals – not for the first time – as the Gunners had run out of midfield alternatives with injuries to Martin Ödegaard and Oleksandr Zinchenko. “I told him yesterday that he will go with us and that I want him to experience what it’s like to be in the hotel, to go through match preparation and to be with the boys. And for him to be ready. “
Arteta thanks Mertesacker and sees a “strong message “
Nwaneri, the first player in Europe’s top five from the 2007 vintage, replaces current Liverpool and then Fulham professional Harvey Elliott as the Premier League record debutant, having made his first appearance in 2019 at 16 years and 30 days. Most recently, he had shone at the club’s own Under 21s. After ten appearances, he stands at four goals and five assists there.
Now he can already look back – the BBC calculated – on three minutes and 42 seconds of Premier League football and one touch of the ball. “We think he’s got a talent that’s going to be incredible to develop over the next two or three years,” said Arteta, who told Nwaneri when he came on as a substitute: “Congratulations and enjoy it.”
Nwaneri had already made his U-18 debut – including a goal – at the age of 14 and was quickly promoted to the next year’s squad. He is also already an England U-17 international. “I met the boy and I liked what I saw,” said Arteta, who also thanked his academy boss: “Per Mertesacker and his staff really provide me with very good information. “
Nwaneri himself will dictate the further pace and show “how far you can go”. Basically, he said, the record debut sends a “strong message” from Arsenal FC – namely that “when there is talent, when there is personality and when there are players who love what they do so much and are not afraid, we offer opportunities.” The doors, he said, are open.
Nwaneri would not have been allowed to debut in the Bundesliga yet. In Germany the minimum age limit is 16, in England 15, but there are a few special rules there for the youngest. Among other things, according to media reports, Nwaneri was not allowed to change with his older teammates on Sunday.