Every matchday programme features an exclusive feature with one of our stars of the future. In a recent edition, young goalkeeper Ovie Ejeheri told us about being a penalty-saving specialist, working with Kevin Betsy and more.
For as long as I can remember, being a goalkeeper is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. Lots of keepers start off their career outfield and eventually work their way back between the sticks, but not me.
Maybe it’s the appeal of scoring goals and doing tricks that puts people off being a keeper, but I remember when I was playing for my first-ever team and they asked me to come outfield... I just stood there and refused to take my gloves off! I’d found my position and that was that. Even when I lost my first game 3-0 and cried after every goal that we conceded, it still didn’t put me off. I was only five at the time!
I just loved it. I loved throwing myself into challenges and one on ones, and back then, I was a bit of a master when it came to penalties. I genuinely don’t think I conceded one until I was eight! I played up a year too.
I was never really scared of challenges or playing against the older lads. I have an older brother and he always used to take shots at me, so I guess if I could handle the power from his shots, it made things easier when I played against teams my age or the year above. We used to do attack v defence drills against the back of the flat and my dad would organise drills for all three of us too.
Not long after that first game I was scouted by Arsenal at a tournament and after experiencing life with a couple of the other London clubs, I officially joined the club aged eight and I’ve been here ever since.
This season in particular has been a really important one for me. It’s been tough in moments because we have a lot of talented goalkeepers here and I haven’t always been in the team, but I’ve also been trusted in some really important games and I’ve had to remain focused and ready for those opportunities.
Making the step up from under-18s football is a big challenge because at under-23 level, you’re coming up against players of all different ages and you get punished for even the smallest of mistakes. At under-18 level you can maybe make a couple mistakes in a game and still come away with a clean sheet, but here, the standards are so much higher and if you make a mistake, you’ll definitely know about it.
Working with Kevin Betsy has been brilliant so far. From the perspective of a goalkeeper, he expects you to be comfortable with the ball at your feet and to always look forward first. If you’re going to play long, then it has to be a good ball. It needs to have purpose. Distribution has been something I’ve been working really hard on ever since I received my scholarship, so it’s been good to see a lot progress and development in that area of my game. That was one of the main things I worked on during lockdown.
I’ve also had the amazing experience of playing senior football in the Papa John’s Trophy this season. I’ve been trusted to start against Swindon Town, Newport County and Ipswich so far and I think we’ve shown incredible fight and spirit as a team in all of those games. When I look back at our opening game against Swindon, we obviously knew what they were going to do, but we didn’t really know how to properly deal with it, so as the games have gone on, we’ve progressed a lot and shown that we can handle experienced senior opposition. I think the Ipswich game is the perfect example because our spirit was outstanding and we played some beautiful football in the way that we planned to open them up.
I mentioned that I was a bit of a penalty saving specialist as a kid earlier, so I’m glad I was able to back that up with a save in the penalty shoot-out against Ipswich last week! I can’t lie, there was a small part of me that wanted the game to go to penalties late on because I absolutely love them and always back myself to save one.
The night before I was thinking about how I would react to a penalty shoot-out with all the fans there and I ended up saving Ipswich’s third penalty, allowing us to win the game 6-5. Our analyst sent me some clips before the game of the Ipswich players and we recognised that they always strike the ball across their body, and that was really helpful for me.
When I was standing there in the shoot-out I decided to fake to step one way – the opposite to where I know they wanted to put it – and then I was able to go back across goal to their favoured side. We’re desperate to go all the way in the competition now, so I hope that you’ll be there supporting us in the next round!
Copyright 2022 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.