He was out of action for four long months, but Kido Taylor-Hart’s spell on the sidelines would ultimately end up finishing earlier than even he expected.
After signing his first professional contract with the club he had been at since the age of seven, the 19-year-old set about becoming an integral part of Kevin Betsy’s Arsenal under-23 side. With two goals in a North London Derby win over Tottenham it seemed there would be little that could stop the winger’s rapid ascension before injury cruelly struck.
His time out was finally scheduled to come to an end as the Gunners travelled up to Old Trafford to play Manchester United under-23s in their penultimate Premier League 2 game of the season. Taylor-Hart was only set make a brief cameo off the bench until he received word of a late change in plans.
READ MORE:Arsenal set to add third stop to their US pre-season tour as date for clash with Everton emerges
“I actually only found out I was going to be starting about two hours before,” he tells football.london in an exclusive interview. “One of the wing backs, Reuell Walters got ill, and so they just told me I was starting. I thought I was going to be on the bench and maybe get 20 minutes but then I was starting!”
The Hale Ender wasted no time getting back to reminding people exactly why Arsenal had been so keen to tie him down to professional deal the summer prior amid interest from various clubs across England and Europe. Playing right wing up against United left back Alvaro Fernandez – who made the first team bench for the Red Devil’s 3-0 win over Brentford – Taylor-Hart pulled away easily with a stepover and quick dribble before firing a low shot that could only be parried into the path of Gunners forward Mika Biereth.
Frustratingly he was only able to get one more start under his belt before the under-23s season came to an end to once again halt his momentum in its tracks. Regardless of this latest disruption though, you don’t get the feeling that he is at all bitter about the cruel hand that fortune has dealt him this campaign when speaking to him. He chuckles as the topic of the U23s players throwing their shirts into the Emirates crowd to thank them for their support in the final game of the season against Leeds is brought up and seems philosophical about what has been one of the most testing periods of his short career.
“At the end of the season I feel good,” he says. “Because of the injury there was a few things that I had to go through and they were good experiences. Personally I think that this season was actually quite good for me. I learnt a lot.”
The nature of Taylor-Hart’s injury – a pubic overload – meant that there was little else he could do except endure the tedious wait for it to recover. At such a vital stage of his development it would surely have been impossible for the teenager not to feel some sort of anxiety as he was forced to sit and watch while others pushed on.
The 19-year-old does admit it was frustrating a times. However, it’s in those periods where he was trying to keep himself from dwelling on the negatives, that he believes the help of a professional made the difference.
“Yeah, there was a psychologist,” he says immediately when asked about individuals who helped him through this tough patch. “We have a new psychologist at the club, and I just spoke a lot to her about staying focused and the season goals and stuff like that.”
Learning to handle the psychological aspect of the game is a huge part of what Taylor-Hart refers to when he reflects on how he’s come on this season, but he is insistent that, despite the limited game time, he’s improved in areas on the pitch too. “I was trying to improve stuff like pressing and other off the ball stuff as well,” he says when asked what specifically he has worked on this season. “And also on the ball I was trying to work on my end product because I want to get more goals and assists.”
The desire to make a difference in the final third is something that is clear from the way the 19-year-old speaks about the game. He has been saying this himself for a while, but this season the added element of under-23s coach Kevin Betsy, who took over from long-serving Arsenal coach Steve Bould in the summer – has helped push that narrative even further. The former England youth coach has been keen to push the Gunners youngsters for more end product this season, and Taylor-Hart relishes this focused approach.
“Yeah he’s very different from Steve Bould. I really enjoy working with him,” he says of his manager. “He lets players do what they’re good at. When you’re an academy player and your in that developmental phase it’s really good to work on what you’re good at and that focuses you on what your strengths are.”
This work on the training ground has been enough to see him get called over into Mikel Arteta’s first team for some sessions at London Colney. Taylor-Hart admits it’s quite the step up in terms of pace and physicality from what he’s used to, but reveals the help of a few senior players who have taken him under their wing has certainly made the experiences more enjoyable.
“I know some of the younger guys like Bukayo (Saka), Emile (Smith Rowe) and Eddie (Nketiah),” he says. “They all talk to me. There are a few of the older players who are quite vocal. Granit (Xhaka), he likes to talk to the young players a lot.”
Having had this brief taste of first-team experience though, Taylor-Hart is in no mood to rest on his laurels. The 19-year-old was attracting interest from several clubs ahead of a potential January loan move before the injury, which he picked up in December, put paid to any chance of that. As the conversation turns to next season, it’s evident that he does not want the opportunity to pass him by again.
“I want to go on loan,” he says. “I think that will help me, rather than staying with the under-23s. I know for some people it’s better to stay but for me anyways I think that will help me grow. I think that would be better for me. It’s men’s football. I think it can teach you some things that the under-23s can’t teach you.”
Having seen the likes of Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Eddie Nketiah make the step up from Hale End to Mikel Arteta’s first team, it’s clear that Taylor-Hart wants to follow in their footsteps. Having used his time away from the game to develop as a person off the pitch, his mind is now set on developing on it.
Source by Football London