For the subject of this week’s interview – U23 Goalkeeper Arthur Okonkwo – I’m tapping into the considerable knowledge of John Williamson: few know more when it comes to Arsenal’s Youth.
The young shot-stopper came to most of our attention when Unai Emery included him in the travelling squad to Napoli in 2018/19. Arthur returned having suffered health issues in June and is now looking to make up for lost time. Could be great timing, with the imminent announcement of Emi Martinez departing for Villa Park.
As usual, John, I am coming at this with little knowledge but much interest, and I guess the first question must be this: we have so many young keepers in Hein, Hilson, Iliev… so is there is a reason you have picked Okonkwo over the others as our next potential future star?
JW: I have decided to go with Okonkwo to give readers a differing insight on a how a young footballer’s career can seemingly be going well, then all of a sudden the rug is pulled from under him and the setbacks this may bring.
Interesting start, please tell me more…
JW: Arthur started with Arsenal as a 7-year-old, steadily going through the age groups, exceeding expectation at each level. Having seem him play from a young age, he has always been assertive, agile, sharp reflexes, quick thinking and – most importantly for a goalkeeper – fast-growing.
Arthur was first called up into the U18 team as a 15-year-old and has played for England in different age groups. During the back-end of the 2018/19 season, Arthur played for the U23s, keeping many clean sheets at both levels.
Before the 2019/20 season, just as Arthur was making rapid progression in his career, he was diagnosed with a non-football related health issue which basically set him back a year.
Having been first choice in 18/19 but having missed the whole of 19/20 is he at a disadvantage? I know both Bould and the recently departed Ljungberg both spoke highly of him when he was playing, and he seemed earmarked for progression back then.
JW: I would say yes, missing a full season doesn’t help any player; I don’t personally know Arthur, but from what I have been told, he is a strong character and it is good to see that he is now back to full training.
Will club look to share the keeping duties at the Under 23 level do you think? Almost as they do at first team level.
JW: It’s hard to say, we have so many good keepers at this level. If we do not sign a backup first team ‘keeper, I can see Deyan Iliev moving up into the squad giving others including Arthur, a better chance.
From what I have read a prime asset for Arthur is his quick and accurate distribution with his feet and arms. This must be crucial in the modern game.
JW: Playing out from the back suits Arthur’s game, he has good feet and is quick thinking, attributes that could serve him well in the future.
Is it too early to say who he reminds your of?
JW: He reminds me a bit of John Lukic; tall and gets down well to low shots.
Whilst he has represented England and Youth levels, I note he can opt for England or Nigeria and I think the latter federation is hovering. Any indication of which way Arthur might jump?
JW: None at present; I do know he has strong family ties with Nigeria, if he gets his old form back, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him in the Green and White of Nigeria.
Of course, keepers have a longevity of career that outfield players don’t have and therefore Arthur has time on his side at only 19. After all we have just witnessed Emi Martinez after goodness knows how many loans away from Arsenal, earn his chance and a move to be first choice in the top league. That being the case how do you envisage the next few years panning out for young Okonkwo? U23’s this season then loan next perhaps?
JW: Arthur’s pathway is quite congested at present; I believe we will get a better indication where he fits in once the transfer window is closed.
With a year of no competitive football, I feel Arthur’s career would benefit from a season long loan in a League 1 team. The alternative would be trying to get game time in the U23s with Karl Hein, Tom Smith and possibly Deyan Iliev.
I do know that Arthur is highly thought of throughout the Club with the coaches having high hopes for him.
It must be so hard to predict the future goalkeeping stars. After all I think we all thought Manninger and Taylor were heirs apparent to Seaman and it has taken us years to find a keeper in the first team near Lehmann class, our last top gloves custodian. All that said as always, I will put you on the spot, as its Willowmeter time John!
The chances of Arthur Okonkwo in a few years time making it into the Arsenal first team set up, with 0 being no chance and 20 being a certain safe bet..?
JW: Currently, I would go with a 10/20, only due to the current goalkeeping situation at the Club and Arthur’s year long absence. If Arthur regains his form and his future pathway becomes clearer, I can see this going up to a 15 or 16.
With keepers the breakthrough may come later, so there is no time pressure on Okonkwo but I think we should remember his name.
Thanks as ever to John, who I suggest you all follow @willow1886
Passionate fifty-something Arsenal supporter who has been making the journey to N5 regularly since the early 1980s – although his first game was in 1976. Always passionate when talking about The Arsenal, Dave decided to send a guest blog to Gunnersphere in the summer of 2011 and has not stopped writing about the Gunners since.
He set up his own site – 1 Nil Down 2 One Up – in February 2012, which he moved on in 2016 to concentrate on freelance writing and building Gunners Town, which he launched with Paul in 2014.
The objective of GT was to be new and fresh and to give a platform for likeminded passionate Arsenal fans wishing to write about their team. Dave still of course, writes for the site himself and advises the ever-changing writing crew.