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The meteoric rise of record-breaking Arsenal schoolboy, Chido Obi-Martin

The iconic Hale End academy, notorious for bestowing Premier League fans the privilege of watching Tony Adams, Andy Cole, Nicolas Anelka, Ashley Cole, Jack Wilshere, Bukayo Saka, and other past and present greats, may have just stumbled across Arsenal’s next superstar.

For the last decade or so, Hale End has struggled to match the production rates of rival Premier League clubs, but recent cultural and personnel changes have begun to turn the tide. An indication of the upturn in top-level academy talent coming through at Arsenal is their increasing international youth team representation; the most recent England under-16 squad, for example, features more Hale End products (5) than any other English academy, with goalkeepers Owen Asemota and Jack Porter, midfielders Theo Julienne and Max Dowman, and forward Brando Bailey-Joseph representing England on behalf of the North London Reds.

Closer to first-team involvement, youngsters Ethan Nwaneri (17) and Myles Lewis-Skelly (17) have established themselves as regular members of Mikel Arteta’s first-team training sessions and could be on the verge of making their much-anticipated breakthroughs. The pair are considered two of England’s brightest upcoming stars. In recent months, however, one name seems to be generating more excitement than any: Chido Obi-Martin.

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The rise of Arsenal’s Chido Obi-Martin:

Sixteen-year-old Chido Obi-Martin has exploded onto the academy scene this season, leaving Arsenal and opposition fans in awe of his goal-scoring ability. The young striker phenom first made headlines for scoring 10 (TEN) goals in a 14-3 victory for the Gunners’ under-16s against Liverpool. Born in Glostrup, Copenhagen, Obi-Martin’s international allegiances currently lie with Denmark, having represented ‘De Rød-Hvide’ at under-16 and under-17 levels. The youngster is also eligible to play for Nigeria and England but, at this stage, shows no intentions of making a switch.

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Obi-Martin began his Arsenal journey at fourteen, progressing rapidly through the age groups. His first start for the under-18s came last September, in a 4-0 victory against Southampton, during which he scored a hat-trick—quite the statement. Following impressive performances, the youngster was rewarded with the opportunity to play for Arsenal’s under-21s, making his first appearance in October. Just a month later, Obi-Martin found himself training with Mikel Arteta’s first team.

Yesterday, Chido scored five goals in an 8-1 win against PL under-18 south leaders West Ham, taking his league tally to 20 goals in just 14 appearances this season. These numbers are even more impressive considering that the Danish striker has only played 1074 minutes in the league, averaging a goal every 54 minutes. Following his goal-fest yesterday, the Danish star equaled a long-standing record held by Rhys Murphy for the most goals scored by a schoolboy for Arsenal’s under-18s in one season at 20. Obi-Martin, with four games left to go, is also closing in on a record set by Folarin Balogun in the 2017/18 season for the overall under-18 scoring record—25, the target to beat. At his current rate, the centre-forward looks set to blow Balogun’s record out of the water.

Comparisons with Alexander Isak; a player profile:

The young Dane is a domineering physical presence on the pitch, towering above peers and opponents at 188cm, with the potential to grow more given his age. A recent photograph released from Arsenal’s first-team training session depicted Chido-Obi engaging in a battle with Declan Rice, one of the Premier League’s most physically astute stars. Chido surprisingly looked an equal match to Declan, indicating his ability to handle the brutal physical demands of first-team football, should such an opportunity arise in the near future.

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His stature and broad frame allow for proficiency in duels, aiding hold-up play with his back to goal. Obi-Martin’s athleticism makes him a constant threat in transition, possessing considerable burst over the first five yards alongside frightening top speed. This hard-to-ignore presence creates a certain gravity towards Obi-Martin, resulting in opposition defenders crowding central areas, thus alleviating the pressure on his teammates, and creating space out wide for wingers to attack—a valuable byproduct of the threat that top-level strikers create.

Perhaps the most lethal weapon in Obi-Martin’s arsenal is his natural goalscoring instinct, seemingly always appearing in the right place at the right time to fire home—an opportunist (in the best sense), like many great poachers before him. This innate feel for off-ball movement combined with his clinical, consistent finishing ability make the Dane a near-unstoppable goal-scoring machine. Obi-Martin’s physical base is strong, but there is room for refinement during his later developmental years. Despite his tall, slender frame, Obi-Martin possesses deceptive agility and manoeuvrability in tight spaces, as well as impressive ball manipulation. Stylistically, I would compare his profile to that of fellow Scandinavian bagsman Alexander Isak. One could not be blamed for drawing parallels between the pairs’ dribbling style, movement patterns, and body frame. 

What does the future hold for the Danish phenomenon?

It remains to be seen how quickly Arsenal plan to fast-track the youngster. Given the importance of the Gunners’ remaining fixtures, each carrying the weight of a cup final amid an intense title race with rivals Manchester City and Liverpool, a first-team debut this season appears unlikely. There’s every chance, however, of Obi-Martin taking part in Arsenal’s pre-season tour—a fine opportunity to prove his worth. A bona-fide, reliable goalscorer up-front is perhaps the biggest missing link in an otherwise refined, complete Arsenal squad; if the Dane continues on his current trajectory, there’s no reason why the Gunners can’t look internally for the answer to their centre-forward search while saving a heap of money in the process. Of course, development isn’t linear, and the unpredictable nature of young players casts some level of caution over even the most surefire talents, but barring injury, it’s hard not to see Chido Obi-Martin going right to the very top. 

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