Goalkeeper Steve Arnold may have come to the club thinking that he would be an under-study to Chris Day, and for the first few months he has been just that. Learning from an extremely talented and experienced goalkeeper is something he feels is already improving his game, but after getting his first team debut at Notts County and keeping his place for the home tie against Scunthorpe United Arnold is delighted with his progress.
When I talked to him about how it felt making his move into the first XI he spoke of many emotions, but said that surprise was the first that hit him!
“I knew the Monday before the Notts County game when the gaffer named the team! We had our pre-match as normal and went through the set-pieces as normal and then he showed us the team and to my surprise I was starting.”
He continued “It was a shock, I’ve got so much respect for Chris and if I can be half the ‘keeper that he’s been between the sticks then I’ll be alright”
As a goalkeeper you need to be prepared to spend some time on the substitute’s bench, some of the best in the country have done so and the 23 year old explained that when fighting for just one position in the side you have to be patient, but when the chance comes you have to literally grab it with both hands.
“I was at Wycombe for two years and the ‘keeper Nikki Bull didn’t get an injury once so as a younger goalie you can get used to not being able to break into a team straight away. I’m very grateful to the manager for giving me such a good chance early on in my Stevenage career and for having such faith and trust in me.”
His league debut came in a tough trip to Notts County – a baptism of fire it certainly was as the Englishman faced two penalties against one of the top sides in the division.
“It was a difficult game but a great one to make my league debut in, I couldn’t have asked for more really. I made a save early on which settled the nerves a bit and from there it’s been decent. I’ve been forced into a few saves in the two games that I’ve played in.
“I always prepare as if I’m going to play or if I get called upon or needed so the preparation doesn’t change too much, you’re just that little bit more concentrated in your head but there are no major changes. You’ve got to be prepared even if you’re not starting because you never know what could happen in the warm up or in the game so you need to be in the zone all the time on game day.”
Some have called Boro’s start to the league campaign unexpected, and with so many new additions in the summer you would have been forgiven for thinking that the season may be one of transition rather than progression.
Once again Stevenage have shown that they aren’t just here to make up the numbers though and Arnold said that the unbeaten start isn’t something we should all be shocked by.
“I think everyone here believes in themselves so no one is that surprised with the start we have had. Maybe people would have expected it to take longer for us to gel and to get to know each other but we had a decent pre-season trip to Ireland where we got to know each other so I’m not surprised at all with how well we are doing. We’re even winning ugly this early on which is a good trait to have.”
He spent last season on loan at Conference side Hayes & Yeading but admitted that it was still a surprise to leave parent-club Wycombe in the summer. The Chairboys have had some well-documented financial issues however Arnold believes that moving on could be a career changing moment.
“It was a bit of a shock but then I know there have been a few problems there and a few players have moved on that I wouldn’t have expected. It wasn’t too bad and looking back on it, it was a great thing for me. I’ve stayed in League One and come to a good club and got my chance.
“It’s brilliant to be part of a club going in this direction, everyone at the club wants to achieve the same goal from the players and management staff to those behind the scenes. Whilst I was at Wycombe we were going up and down and to come to a place where we are sitting second in the league, we have a new training ground with tremendous pitches and the building work will be completed soon, improvements to the stadium and talk of new stadium plans so it is good to be involved in a place that is so forward thinking as opposed to just settling for what we already have.”
When asked his hopes for this season the ‘keeper honestly replied “I want to stay in the side” before continuing “I’ll continue to work hard and learn a lot of Chris [Day] as I have been doing as well as Gary Phillips the goalkeeping coach. I don’t see why we can’t get promotion, we’re in second place now and last year the club came close when they lost in the play offs so this year has got to be an improvement on that at least, automatic or win the play offs. I think the way that we have started is a means to kick on.”
Manager Gary Smith, someone that Arnold is enjoying working with, spoke to Boro Player earlier this week about bringing former Arsenal defender Nigel Winterburn in to help coach the Stevenage squad and on that influence at the training ground Steve commented “Nigel has been in a few times now and I’ve had a couple of sessions with him, but just to have his experience in and around the dressing room can only be a good thing.
“The boys have learned a lot from him and you can see at the back that we are a lot more rigid and comfortable with the ball so he has had a major influence in that. He was at the top of his game for more than ten years so we have a lot to learn from him and he’s doing a wonderful job. Automatically he commands respect from what he has done and where he has been. We can go up to him in and around the canteen and talk to him so it’s good to have someone like that at the club.”
Arnold wasn’t the only goalkeeping addition from Wycombe this summer with youngster Charlie Horlock also joining on youth terms. Training with the first team whilst holding down the number one jersey for the U18 side, Charlie has taken the role that Arnold is used to.
With a goalkeeping team that includes the youth, the 'up and comer' and the experienced head, a development path is clear and it’s something that all three are enjoying.
“I’m 23 now so I’m getting on a little bit, we’ve got Charlie in training with us who is keen to learn and Chris with all the experience, we both learn so much from him and long may that continue. People outside the club might see me coming into the side as something that could disrupt Chris but it’s not like that at all, he’s a top bloke and had nothing but good things to say when I got into the team. Of course there is that friendly rivalry, you have to have it as goalkeepers, but he has been nothing but helpful and I have so much respect and admiration for him.”