When Brooke Norton-Cuffy joined Lincoln City on loan in January from Arsenal there were eyebrows raised given that the defender had only recently turned 18.
However, the London-born defender has adapted seamlessly to senior football, with the right-back producing some excellent and assured performances in League One.
The month of March saw him score his first senior goal as Lincoln triumphed over Sheffield Wednesday 3-1 at the LNER Stadium and his steady progression playing regular first-team football is excellent news for Arsenal football club as they endeavour in taking a new, fresh and exciting youthful direction at the Emirates Stadium.
Born and bred in the city of London, the 18-year-old defender began his professional career at the North London giants signing his first professional contract in January 2021.
It wasn’t until January 2022, that the club felt his incredible gifts and talents will be better served experiencing first-team action in League One, and the 5 foot 11 full-back has taken in such demands like a duck to water.
Having already represented England at U16 and U18 level, Norton-Cuffy made his Under-19 debut during a 3-1 win over the Republic of Ireland during the 2022 UEFA European Under-19 Championship qualification at Walsall’s Bescott Stadium.
Arsenal have had a mixed record when it comes to right-backs in recent years.
Summer signing Takehiro Tomiyasu has earned rave reviews, to the extent that he’s one of the first names on the teamsheet, but the quality below him just doesn’t do the role justice.
Cedric Soares, Hector Bellerin and Ainsley Maitland-Niles have all played in the position in the last few years, and none have been particularly impressed with the view to becoming the club’s long-term option.
With the former Bologna full-back forming such a crucial part of Arsenal’s new-look strong defence, a reliable backup option is a priority and Arsenal could save millions by placing their trust in a player who could become a Premier League regular in “a year or two”.
Lincoln boss Michael Appleton has been consistently impressed by Norton-Cuffy during the loan so far, previously suggesting the youngster could have a Premier League future.
Appleton has now gone one step further, claiming the Hale End academy product will undoubtedly play for Arsenal regularly in the future.
“He’ll go back to Arsenal a better player and I’ve got no doubts – it might not be for a year or two – but he will play in their first team on a regular basis,” the Imps boss said.
“He puts the work in every single day. We work a lot on putting it around the corner with the full-backs knowing that either one of the No.8s or the striker will be there.
“It’s not luck, he practices it every single day for 5-10 minutes after training, so all the work is down to him. He’s putting the graft in so when it happens in games, he’s comfortable doing it.”
As per StatsBomb, Norton-Cuffy ranks in the top two per cent of full-backs in the division for 1v1s, and successful dribbling: 98th percentile for successful dribbles and 97th percentile for tackles/dribbled past.
Also, in 14 League One outings, he’s registered one goal, 0.4 key passes per game, 1.4 dribbles and 0.3 shots which suggests he is a very capable attacking right-back, a trait Mikel Arteta strongly requires in his full-backs.
Defensively, he is very adept too, winning 54% of his ground duels, and averaging 1.4 tackles per game, impressive readings which are not too far off Arsenal’s Japanese international.
Like Tomiyasu, the 18-year-old defender is also capable of playing as a centre-back in a three-man defence, but it is at right-back where he is most effective and he will be looking to continue his impressive progress.
Norton-Cuffy is currently tearing League One to shreds. Should he continue his rapid rise in the coming months, the Gunners may well have their perfectly able and talented deputy to compete with Tomiyasu for a first-team berth at right-back.
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