There have been very few debuts for Arsenal as memorable as Charlie Patino.
Gunners boss Mikel Arteta remained adamant during the opening round of this season’s Carabao Cup, with increasing demand from fans for the teenage midfielder to be offered a chance in the first team.
But that all changed on 21 December, when Ligue 1 side Sunderland traveled to Emirates Stadium for their quarter-final match.
Patino, who had spent the bulk of campaign training with the senior team, was given a chance and named on the bench for the first time in his youth career.
And, with Arsenal leading 4-1, they were finally dealt with with 10 minutes remaining.
Hale and Academy product pitch roared, with over 50,000 Arsenal fans chanting his name.
And within 10 minutes he had a perfect end to the night, hitting Nicolas Pepe’s cross to score his first senior goal and shining a 5–1 success.
“It was a wonderful night,” recalls Patino, as he speaks exclusively aim But after his 28th place NXGN 2022 List of the 50 Best Wonderkids in World Football.
“When I arrived, it was an amazing feeling to hear everyone chanting my name. It gave me so much confidence. I was feeling free, I felt like I could play normally.
“Then when I got my first pass off, it brought even more confidence. Then scoring after Pepe passed it, it was amazing, honestly.”
Patino continued: “I remember afterward just hugging the staff and all the players coming up to me and saying, ‘Congratulations, you deserve it, enjoy your night’.
“My family and my agent were looking at the adidas box, and it was great to just go in and see their faces afterwards because they all spent so much time traveling up and down the country watching me play in the years when I Was in St. Petersburg Albans, Luton and Hell End.
“I told my family that night, ‘This is just the beginning, I need more.'”
Patino’s first goal came just two months after his 18th birthday, and the way he handled the occasion was an indicator of his character and showed why Arsenal value him so much.
It’s a night the midfielder will cherish forever, but his focus is now on making sure he adds many more memorable chapters to his Arsenal story.
He said, ‘This season has been very good for me. “Playing games with the under-23s, whether it is in Premier League 2 or against the men in the Papa John’s Trophy. Then it was wonderful to get a call-up for eight or nine weeks with the first team.
“I now know the difference between first team and U23 and it is huge. The speed, quality of play, how fast they move the ball, the strength of the players.
“Just figuring out where I want to be, how much gym I have to do, the technical and tactical side of the game. It’s all become so important.
“Now I just want to kick off, hopefully be with him in the pre-season and try to establish myself in the dressing room.”
Patino joined Arsenal at the age of 11, arriving from Luton Town, where he had established himself as one of the most exciting young talents in the country.
Top Premier League sides went head-to-head to sign him, with Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham all going on.
But it was Arsenal that caught his attention.
“It just felt right,” he says. “I felt at home.”
Patino soon began to impress as he progressed through the Gunners’ famed Hell End Academy, and always played in an older age group than himself.
He got his first taste of U23s football at the end of the 2020-21 season, and began the current campaign hoping to firmly establish himself within Kevin Betsy’s squad.
While other youngsters have been earmarked for loan, Patino’s plan has always been to stay and develop at Arsenal, get playing time with U23 and spend some time training with the first team.
But some impressive seasons at London Colony saw him become a regular face in first-team training, and a closed-door friendly performance against Brentford last summer put him ahead of Arteta’s plans.
This culminated with the midfielder making his debut against Sunderland, and he was soon rewarded with his first senior start in the third round of the FA Cup at Nottingham Forest.
But this time there was no fairy-tale result, with Arsenal losing 1–0 at the hands of the Championship side.
It was a rough evening for everyone involved, and for Patino, it was an early example of how tough senior football can be.
“In a way, it’s something I need to learn rather than over a few years’ time,” he says.
“Now I understand Mikel is getting angry with the players, saying it’s not good enough, but just ‘Well done boys, great performance’.
“It was a big sport to be a part of. Nottingham Forest clearly has a rich history and the fans were lively.
“I enjoyed the game though it didn’t suit us. The next day we were all hurt, knowing we could have done better.
Patino’s absolute debut at City Ground saw him become the latest graduate from Hell’s End and make his first-team debut at Arsenal.
He, like many others who are currently moving to the North London organization, has been inspired by the rise of Bukayo Saka and Emil Smith Row during the past two years.
Saka and Smith Rowe have both been instrumental in taking Patino under his wing, as he embarks on a journey he has just begun.
Unexpectedly, he sees their pairing, and insists that their success does not put additional pressure on Hell’s end youth who are now attempting to follow in their footsteps.
“I wouldn’t say it’s pressure, it’s something I want to take in my stride,” says the 18-year-old. “I just want to try and do what they did.
“Every day I’m going to London Colony and working hard on the things I need to work hard on.
“Bukayo and Emil are obviously very talented players, but I think what sets them apart from many other talented players is their attitude, their mindset and how humble they are.
“It’s very difficult to come straight from Hell’s End to London Colony and then go straight to the first team without actually going on loan.
“It’s a credit to their work ethic and what they do every day.”
Patino has always been a student of sports. Born in a football loving family, there was rarely a time when he didn’t have a ball in his feet.
Growing up, he idolized Barcelona great Andres Iniesta, while his time at Arsenal saw him inspired by Arteta, Santi Cazorla and Jacques Wilshere, the most famous graduates of Hell End.
During Wilshere’s recent return to Arsenal, when he spent some time training with the senior team and coaching youth teams, Pattino turned to the former Gunners star to watch Arsenal’s 2011 clash with Barcelona in the Champions League. Took the opportunity to sit with
Wilshere described Patino as “the best individual performance” he has seen even during their 2-1 success at Emirates, and the teenage midfielder says the opportunity to study the match with one of his idols has cost him invaluable. Provides insight.
“We watched that game together,” he said. “Dominated against the likes of Jack [Sergio] Busquets, Xavi and [Andres] Iniesta, it was really cool to see it with him.
“We talked about the game and learned about its highlights. He showed me the things he does in a game that I can’t. It was an interesting chat.
“It was great to be around Jack when he was working at Arsenal. It was a big deal for the young players to have him around the building and a lot of people learned from him.
Pattino’s season has been interrupted by injury in recent weeks, but he has just returned to full fitness and is focused on finishing the campaign as strongly as possible.
Arsenal are pushing for a top four finish in the Premier League knowing they may have to spend their time with the first team for their next opportunity.
But that’s not a problem for a player who is determined to just learn and improve in an environment he believes Arteta and his coaching staff have enjoyed since arriving at the club in December 2019. It is a testament to the work that has been done.
“You can see the excitement of the team winning when they come to work here every day,” Patino said. “You can see the smiles on the faces, you can see that everyone is training well together.
“When I go out to train on first team pitches, I see a phrase that says, ‘Train to win’.
“It means that if you put in the hard work in training and the extra you need to do, it will put you in a good position to get three points on match day.
“It’s a really important message because if you work really hard, the talent will rise to the top.
“The club has changed in a big way. The players, the coaches, the staff, everyone gets along with each other. It’s just a good culture to be a part of.
“I enjoy myself every day when I drive in London Colony.”