Carl Jenkinson has revealed he is still pinching himself that he is an Arsenal player and admitted he has a long way to go before becoming their first-choice right-back.
Lifelong Gunners fan Jenkinson could hardly have enjoyed a more meteoric rise in the past 12 months, having gone from making his senior debut in non-league football to playing at the Emirates Stadium, Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, and in the Champions League.
The 19-year-old, who was starring on loan for Conference side Eastbourne this time last year, joined Arsenal from League One Charlton during the summer.
Jenkinson would have been expecting a limited role at his new club but found himself thrown in at the deep end as injuries ravaged Arsène Wenger's rearguard. It proved a real baptism of fire for the young defender, who was on the losing side in his first three Premier League appearances, including the humiliating 8-2 thrashing at Manchester United, where he was also sent off.
But as Arsenal have improved, so has Jenkinson, and Wenger has kept faith with his summer signing at right-back while Bacary Sagna recovers from a broken leg.
"Sometimes, I just have to take a step back and really appreciate where I am," Jenkinson said. "For me to come from where I was to playing in the Premier League is obviously a big achievement. But the main thing I have to pinch myself about is that I'm actually playing for Arsenal.
"I can't really portray how special that is for a fan of the club and for someone who comes from a family that loves Arsenal so much. It's just a great thing to be becoming a part of Arsenal's history. Long may it continue."
Jenkinson admitted top-flight football had been something of a culture shock. He said: "I'm settling in better now and I think people are slowly starting to see me as a player and what I can do. There have been ups and downs, as you all know.
"That's part of life. From the downs, you can always learn a lot. Overall, I've really enjoyed it and hopefully there'll be some more good times to come."
Wenger had looked inclined to play one of his centre-backs out of position on the right during Sagna's absence but ultimately decided to put his faith in youth once more.
"It's a very flattering thing for him to do that and believe in me," Jenkinson added. "I've got the ability and I have it in me to be playing now – it's just up to me to play well, take my chances and make sure I keep that place.
"Obviously, over the years he's put faith in youngsters but when it's you, you're that bit more grateful. There's a lot more improvement [to come] and I know I have a lot more in me. I know I have to improve if I want to be a regular at this football club."
Wenger has seen many of the players he has developed move on and there have been reports that star midfielder Jack Wilshere is on a Real Madrid wishlist leaked to the Spanish press.
There will doubtless come a time when Wilshere will have to decide where he sees himself in the long term.
Jenkinson is in the midst of a dilemma over his own future, having yet to decide whether to pledge his allegiance to England or to his mother's native Finland, having represented both at youth level.
He said: "I honestly could not tell you what my decision will be because it's something I'm going to have to think about in depth."
Meanwhile, Bordeaux president Jean-Louis Triaud has claimed he has been snubbed in his attempts to bring Moroccan international striker Marouane Chamakh back to the club.
"In the last two months, I have been leaving messages with Marouane," Triaud said. "I also left messages with Arsène Wenger but I got no answer. His silence shows probably that he still hopes he will make it at Arsenal."
Wenger maintains he takes no personal sense of gratification from Arsenal's recent resurgence – and insists there is "room for improvement".
After a disastrous start to the new season, when they lost four of their opening seven Premier League matches, the Gunners have now chalked up four straight wins. They are also in command of their Champions League group and have reached the quarter-finals of the Carling Cup, where they will host Manchester City.
"At the moment I feel we are more focused – saying 'look I am right' is less important for me than trying to continue the quality of our team and our results," the manager said.Reuse content