When Brooke Norton-Cuffy joined Lincoln City on loan in January from Arsenal there was an element of a surprise given that the defender had only recently turned 18. However, Norton-Cuffy 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 pro contract in January 2021.
It wasn’t until January 2022, that the club felt his incredible gifts and talents will be better served experiencing League One calibre football at Lincoln City, and Norton-Cuffy has taken in such demands like a duck to water.
A spell which will certainly serve him well as he continues to develop his game, with the long-term intention of breaking in at the Emirates Stadium.
Having already represented England at U16 and U18 level, Norton-Cuffy made his Under-19 debut during a 3-1 over the Republic of Ireland during the 2022 UEFA European Under-19 Championship qualification at Walsall’s Bescott Stadium.
Brooke Norton-Cuffy: Style of play
Nowadays, in the modern game, full-backs are taking on the role of midfielders with each passing matchweek.
Being able to defend spaces and opposition wingers just isn’t enough for the role. The modern-day full-back is required to possess the dribbling ability of a winger, the energy of a box-to-box midfielder and the vision and passing ability of a no.8 or a no.6.
Dani Alves back then, and now Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, Manchester City’s Joao Cancelo have simply upped the standards and expectations of a modern-day full-back.
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 now expansive 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 Tomiyasu forming such a crucial part of Arsenal’s new-look strong defence, a reliable backup option is a priority position to address in the summer.
There have been strong links to a number of quality options like Djed Spence, currently on loan at Nottingham Forest from Middlesbrough after he tore the Gunners apart in the FA Cup 3rd round, and the 21-year-old could prove to be an excellent attacking full-back in the future, with Bayern Munich also linked to his services.
However, Arsenal could save a lot of bucks if they go down the route of their academy products – like they’ve done with Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe – and provide them with the ample opportunity to impress, and the latest in the long list of extraordinary talents coming out of Hale End is indeed Brooke Norton-Cuffy.
A physical and imposing yet quick full-back, Norton-Cuffy has taken League One by storm, remaining a rock at the back but terrorising the opposition with his lambasting runs and mazy dribbling.
Lincoln City fans certainly had their doubts once they’d picked up a kid who hadn’t played a single minute of first-team football from their parent clubs, but little did they know this was a kid hellbent on giving a stunning impression.
Take his performance in the loss against Doncaster Rovers in February.
In what was a poor showing from Michael Appleton’s men, Norton-Cuffy proved the undisputed shining light. If his teammates were on the same wavelength as him, the result could have been very different.
On a one-man mission to destroy the Doncaster defence, the defender picked up the ball in his own half, and after rampaging forward, turning four defenders inside out, he squared the ball in the box only for his team-mate to blast it over.
The teenager expressed his towering strength as well as his admirable speed of thought, leaving the opposition defenders grounded with an infamous chop to cut inside, before holding off three at a time to pick out a pass.
The latest crop of Hale End players stand out from other prospects because of their in-game intelligence, and Brooke Norton-Cuffy fits that bill impressively.
Mikel Arteta demands his full-backs to be brave and bold when Arsenal are on the attack, and Norton-Cuffy exemplifies such qualities right down to the tee. He is not afraid to break opposition lines with his dribbling, even if there is the danger of being dispossessed, he will still attempt to drive his team up the pitch when they desperately need it.
Once Norton-Cuffy gets going, he is simply unstoppable and unplayable, due to his incredible frame and imposing figure, opposing defenders simply cannot stand the sight of him running head-on towards them.
Brooke Norton-Cuffy, Lincoln City 2021/22 (on loan from Arsenal)
BNOC profiles like a talented 1v1 defender on both sides of the ball: 98th percentile for Successful Dribbles and 97th percentile for Tackle/Dribbled Past % pic.twitter.com/oXGGzGo3wr
— StatsBomb (@StatsBomb) March 25, 2022
The above graph, as provided by StatsBomb, is an indication of the qualities Norton-Cuffy possesses in his dribbling. He 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.
Of course, he does have to work on his ball retention and pass selection, however, it’s vital to note that he is indeed only 18, and those skills will be developed as he matures and learns.
If he is to make the grade at Arsenal, his passing will be a vital quality to have so that is something he will certainly be looking to work on if he is to break into the first team in future, but the 5 foot 11 defender is currently making giant strides in his development.
He may need obvious work in his passing but he is perfectly capable of providing telling crosses for his forwards, whether through getting to the byline and delivering or picking out forward off-the-ball runs from deep, he performs his attacking duties very well.
Norton-Cuffy is also a diligent defender and reads the game well. As shown previously his 1v1 duels with opposition wingers is excellent simply because he uses his strength, power and terrific defensive positioning to his advantage. He rarely gets dribbled past.
At times, he will simply knock dribblers out of the way because of his sheer strength and speed, and that’s something that will prove incredibly useful within the huge physical demands of the Premier League.
After winning the man-of-the-match award in his first senior start against Wycombe Wanderers, Norton-Cuffy has remained level headed but he has also shown that he is ambitious enough to make the starting spot his own.
Speaking after Norton-Cuffy’s first start, Lincoln manager Michael Appleton was clearly impressed with what he had seen from his new signing.
“I thought Brooke Norton-Cuffy was outstanding,” said Appleton. “We’ve seen a glimpse of what he’s capable of. His attacking play is a big part of his game. He was a little bit nervous initially, but it was his first league start. He came through that and got stronger and stronger.”
What does the immediate future hold for Norton-Cuffy?
It will be intriguing to see what will happen with Norton-Cuffy thereafter. The likelihood is that the England youth international will be assessed by Arsenal in the summer and could feature in pre-season friendlies.
Another loan spell, perhaps to a Championship club, could follow, but if he impresses sufficiently then there is a chance that Norton-Cuffy may remain with Arsenal next season and be on the fringes of the first-team, although a loan move to the Championship may seem the more plausible bet seeing as it is a step up from League One football.
It will certainly do his development, maturity and learning the world of good.
Norton-Cuffy 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.
Brooke Norton-Cuffy is tearing League One to shreds. Should he continue his rapid rise in the coming months, Arsenal may well have their perfectly able and talented deputy to compete with Tomiyasu for a first-team berth at right-back.