Arsenal starlet Afobe set for Dagenham homecoming
England under-19 ace to play against Daggers for Huddersfield Town
ONE of the most promising young stars in English football is looking forward to a Dagenham homecoming when he plays at Victoria Road this weekend.
However, unfortunately for Daggers boss John Still, Arsenal and England under-19 starlet Benik Afobe will be stepping off the Huddersfield Town coach and lining up against his local side.
The 17-year-old joined the Terriers on loan last month and has already netted three times, while also contributing two assists to Lee Clark’s promotion-chasing side.
Afobe has played at Victoria Road before in a friendly fixture, but is now eager to show off his skills before friends and family on the football league stage.
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“It’s going to be good. I grew up in Dagenham, it’s my home town and to be playing against them for Huddersfield will be a fantastic experience for me,” he said.
“A few of my schoolfriends are going and obviously my family will be there. Arsenal are going to be there to watch.”
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After being spotted by an Arsenal scout at just six years old when playing Sunday league football in Dagenham, Afobe’s rapid career trajectory has already seen him become the youngest-ever player to turn out for the Gunners’ reserve side at 16 years and four days old, eclipsing Jack Wilshere
He also top scored for the club’s under-18 side last season as they retained their Premier Academy League title and was a prominent member of England’s victory in the under-17 European Championships.
Having reportedly drawn the attention of Barcelona before signing a professional contract at Arsenal in February, Afobe could have found it a culture shock when he was sent to West Yorkshire to continue his development.
Instead, he insists he has loved every minute of his time at the Galpharm Stadium and had no hesitations in recently agreeing a month’s extension to the existing loan deal.
“Everyone has made me feel really welcome. I feel like I’ve been part of them for more than four weeks,” he said.
“(League One) is hard because they battle a lot, the ball is in the air a lot and you have to be strong and move yourself about.
It’s different to what I’m used to, but experiencing this is only going to make me a better player for the future.
“I’ve got much stronger. I was already powerful, but I have to use my strength more than I have to in the reserves. You have to put yourself about and when a chance comes you have to try and score because every three points means a lot.
“It can be the difference between where you end up in the table.
“I’m still a youth at Arsenal so it’s not always about the score at this age, it’s about developing, becoming a better player and becoming more of a team player.
“At Huddersfield, honestly, even if we play bad and we win sometimes we don’t really care. We don’t mind winning ugly, it’s about three points.”
Arsene Wenger and his staff have been following Afobe’s progress closely, monitoring specific statistics after every game he plays in at Huddersfield, but the local fixture on Saturday mean’s they will be able to run the rule over him in the flesh.
“I’ve played with pressure all my life so that’s nothing big,” said the level-headed youngster.
“I don’t think about it. Once I get on the pitch I just try and do a job for the team and hopefully we can win.”
Afobe was recently rested by Huddersfield at the request of his parent club but, after starting and scoring in the 6-0 thumping of Macclesfield Town on Saturday, he is hopeful of continuing his hot streak.
“Obviously I would like to start, but I’m not too sure yet what will happen, but I’ll definitely be involved somehow,” he said.
“I feel fine. Obviously I get a few knocks in the game, but that happens in any game. It’s nothing new to me, especially as a striker.
“It would be nice to score a goal, especially being a striker and it being at Dagenham, but hopefully we’ll get the win first.”
The Premier League game against Fulham will command more attention from Arsenal fans than Afobe’s return to his roots on Saturday.
However, should his stock continue to rise at the same rate, supporters at the Emirates Stadium may be more familiar with him before too long.