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Saka’s Arsenal success no surprise to Mavididi: He used to run through the whole team & score!

The Juventus forward – on loan at Dijon – spent eight years with the Gunners before leaving for Turin

Stephy Mavididi knows only too well the talent that can come through Arsenal’s academy.

The 21-year-old, now on loan at Dijon from Juventus, was a Hale End graduate himself having joined Arsenal from Southend United when he was just 11.

He went on to spend eight years with the Gunners before moving to Turin and is now watching from afar as the likes of Bukayo Saka, Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Reiss Nelson impress in Mikel Arteta’s first-team.

And Mavididi couldn’t be happier to see his former team-mates and friends doing so well with the Gunners.

“I remember when I was at Hale End, I must have been about 13 or 14 and I used to watch Bukayo [Saka] with the Under-8s,” Mavididi told Goal during an exclusive interview.

“He used to just get the ball and run through the whole team and score. It was the same with Reiss [Nelson].

“Now they are really taking their chance and I‘m so happy for them. Arsenal has always been about producing good young talent and that’s what is happening there now.

“For the young players it’s just about taking your opportunity once you get it and I think the young players who are playing now are doing that.

“It’s good to see my friends doing so well.”

Although he never went on to make a senior appearance for Arsenal before leaving for Juventus in 2018, Mavididi looks back on his time in north London fondly.

An Arsenal fan himself, he is grateful to have worked under coaches such as Freddie Ljungberg, Thierry Henry and Arsene Wenger – who he describes as “a legend”.

“I loved every minute of it,” said Mavididi. “I was playing for my dream team. From when I joined at 11 to when I left, I loved it all.

“I met some good friends and some good people. I worked with some fantastic coaches and trained with some world-class players.

“It was a fantastic time for me.”

One of the senior players Mavididi would train alongside at London Colney was Mikel Arteta, who is now into his second month as head coach at Emirates Stadium.

And even back then, the Spaniard was showing signs of his coaching ability – often working closely with the younger players and sharing his experience

For Mavididi, it was a valuable learning curve and he believes Arsenal are in good hands with the 37-year-old at the helm.

“Mikel was a top professional,” said the Juventus forward. “He was the club’s captain at the time and you could just tell how professional he was.

“He was struggling with injuries, so for a period he was training with the reserves and playing matches with us and his application and the way he went about it was just so impressive.

“The advice that he gave to us was always spot on. He used to help the forwards and defenders a lot by telling us things from a midfielder’s perspective.

“When to press, when not to press, things like that. It was a good experience for all of us.”

Mavididi added: “I still try to watch every Arsenal game and I think he’s doing a good job.

“He’s integrating a lot of the younger players which is good because I think they deserve their chance and they are taking it.

“You can only look to the coach when things like that happen.”

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