Charlie Patino was not supposed to make his Arsenal debut against Sunderland on Tuesday night, but then again, defying expectations is nothing new to the 18-year-old.
At just 14 he was captaining the England under-16 side and in the same year he went on to make first appearance for the Gunners under-18 team.
After an injury threatened to curtail his rapid ascensions towards the back end of last season, the expectation was that the Hale Ender would spend this season finding his feet at under-23 level with Kevin Betsy’s side, with occasional exposure to senior football via first team friendlies or Papa John’s Trophy action.
But after Albert Sambi Lokonga tested positive for COVID-19 and Ainsley Maitland-Niles came down with illness, the fates conspired to give Patino an unforgettable night that has been years in the making.
Signed at the age of just 11 from Luton Town from £10,000, Arsenal were quickly aware of the level of talent that they had on their hands with the midfielder when Sean O’Connor – the scout who had discovered Jack Wilshere – claimed that Patino was the best he had ever seen.
The question now was not one of ability, but rather of getting the youngster’s development exactly right.
This is where the individually tailored approach of Per Mertesacker’s new look Gunners’ academy began to come into play.
“We want to build and make sure that we have not a one size fits all approach in terms of individual players and their pathways,” the German told football.london about his aims for the talented players in the Arsenal youth set up.
Patino has often been compared to Phil Foden, but this is not due to necessarily to playing style – with the 18-year-old generally operating as a deeper lying playmaker. Instead the similarities have been highlighted due to their development pathways.
After impressing in the academy teams last season, there were calls for the Hale Ender to be sent out on loan to expose him to regular men’s football, in a similar manner to the near weekly demands that Pep Guardiola faced to send Foden elsewhere for the good of his progression in the early part of the England international’s career.
Instead of bowing to pressure though, the decision was taken to keep Patino around London Colney.
While Tuesday night was his first taste of senior action, the 18-year-old has been acclimatising himself to the first team level in regular training sessions, where Ben White is among the many players to have stated how much he has impressed.
It is for this reason that Mikel Arteta was keen to direct the praise for Patino’s successful debut towards those within the Gunners’ youth set up.
“I am delighted, but that’s down to all the work that has been done in the academy and at the club for many years,” the Spaniard said. “These are the fruits of that work.”
Sources within the academy have expressed their delight to football.london at how well it has gone for Patino.
The 18-year-old has been noted for his humble and polite demeanour off the pitch, and it is for this reason that there is a particular will to see him succeed in delivering on his potential.
While several other under-23 players pause due to the Premier League 2’s winter break, Patino will spend the festive period training with the first team squad.
Arteta has indicated that he would not be afraid to use him again if needs be, and with Mohamed Elneny and Thomas Partey set to be away at the Africa Cup of Nations for next month’s FA Cup third round tie with Nottingham Forest, there is a chance that we could see the latest product off the Hale End conveyor belt back in the senior fold again very soon.