First impressions are said to be very important, but in the case of Isaac Hayden that sentiment does not necessarily ring true. The first time that many followers of youth football saw the youngster in action was during his debut for England U16s against Wales three years ago. Hayden delivered a disappointing performance and was withdrawn at half-time, but his progression in the ensuing period has been nothing short of meteoric.
Now 18, Hayden has achieved international recognition with England up to U19 level, but it is his achievements on the domestic front that have been the most eye-catching, with the versatile youngster having made his first-team debut for Arsenal this season whilst also making the substitutes bench in the Premier League and the Champions League.
It has been clear for some time that manager Arsene Wenger has been impressed with Hayden’s development, with the Frenchman inviting the youngster to train with the first-team on several occasions in the second half of last season. Now, despite his tender age, Hayden is becoming increasingly involved in the senior set-up, and, at present, is being preferred to Emmanuel Frimpong for a place on the bench.
That aforementioned performance for England U16s seems part of the distant past now, with Hayden having asserted his credentials as a young player brimming with potential whether he is deployed at centre-back or as a defensive-midfielder. He possesses the vaunted qualities of being able to break up play and distribute the ball to his team-mates with ease, and, although he is not the most elegant in possession, the former Southend United youngster is a superb reader of the game.
There are still some flaws that need ironing out, however, most notably his tendency to launch into over-zealous challenges at times. For instance, he was rather fortunate to escape with just a caution for a lunging tackle on Youssouf Mulumbu during his senior debut against West Bromwich Albion, but everything else that Hayden did that night at The Hawthorns oozed class.
He is expected to remain with the senior side for this week’s trip to face Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League and, although it is unlikely that he will enter the field at Signal Iduna Park, the experience that he has gained whilst travelling and training with the first-team will doubtless prove hugely beneficial as his career progresses.
In the next couple of years a firm decision will need to be made regarding what his best position will be in the long-term, whilst, if he continues to progress, he should be something of a regular in the Capital One Cup side next season before potentially heading out on loan after that.
For now, though, Isaac Hayden can be content with his rapid progression over the past few years.