Aarons desperate to repay faith after 'crazy' 150 for Canaries
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Racking up 150 appearances for Norwich City just a few days after his 22nd birthday was a source of great pride for Max Aarons, as he strives to repay the faith shown in him.
Thrust into the spotlight at just 18 by an impressed Daniel Farke, the full-back experienced two Championship title triumphs and a Premier League relegation in his first three seasons as a fully-fledged professional.
Reaching his 150th appearance in rapid time puts him in esteemed company, with 1980s full-back Paul Haylock the only City player to pass that milestone sooner, 85 days before his 22nd birthday.
Dale Gordon, Graham Paddon and Darren Eadie are among the elite band of players to hit 150 City appearances prior to turning 23 but Aarons managed it just eight days after turning 22.
“I don’t know where it’s gone,” he joked after Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at West Ham. “It’s crazy looking at it, 150, but the feeling is still the same every time I put on that shirt.
“It’s an amazing feeling to play for this club and I’m grateful for the chances that I’ve been given and I just want to repay that and fight back, to stay in this league.
“I want to keep progressing, keep improving, keep playing well.”
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Part of that rise to becoming an established player at a young age has involved regular transfer interest and speculation.
Barcelona, Roma and Borussia Dortmund are all understood to have made enquiries during the past 18 months, having seen Aarons earn 15 caps for the England Under-21s.
It’s believed City would consider selling their right-back this month if a big bid arrived, as it could allow for spending to improve a struggling squad as a whole, but head coach Dean Smith suggested earlier this week that Aarons looks set to stay.
“I’ve said it a number of times now that my focus is on the day-to-day, coming in and improving as a player, one game to the next,” he said of that transfer element.
“We’ll analyse this game and I don’t think about anything else, just think about what we can do in the Everton game.
“I just focus on the job at hand because the outside noise is all it is and it will always be there. What happens, happens, on the outside.
“So massively important just to keep my head down, keep improving and hopefully reach 200 games and so on, just keep performing.”
The Milton Keynes-raised defender scored in his second City appearance, during a 3-1 win at Cardiff in the League Cup, and a few days later Farke threw him into the heat of derby day and a 1-1 draw at Ipswich.
It was the start of a remarkable run of fitness and consistency, playing and starting all but four of the Canaries' last 145 league games – and one of those was enforced by international duty.
"You have to make sure that you are consistent in each and every game, your performance levels can’t dip,” Aarons said of that dependability.
“That’s something I pride myself on as a full-back as well, people know what they will get from me and I like to do that every week, heart on my sleeve and a battling performance.”
The former Luton Town trainee, who joined Norwich as a 16-year-old, has also learned just how difficult the step up from the Championship to the Premier League is though.
With City enduring a really disappointing campaign so far, Aarons has occasionally been used as a wing-back and hasn’t had a settled partnership with a right winger since the club-record sale of Emi Buendia last summer.
He is working with Smith to try and strike the right balance between defence and attack for a team in the thick of a relegation battle.
“It is hard, especially with the position we’re in," he continued. "We want to be defensively solid but ultimately as an attacking full-back I want to make runs that can really affect the game.
“It’s hard for me, seeing the strikers with limited service, and I always look back on the games and think about what I could have done to create chances or to affect a game.
“It’s about taking chances to win the game because whether we win 1-0 or 3-2, we have to score and create.”
If Aarons features against Everton on Saturday he will also move up to 100th place in the club's all-time appearances list, with the potential to surpass Grant Holt in 89th place, with 168 appearances, if he features in every match for the remainder of the season.
Aarons takes heart from better display
Aarons believes City should not be ‘disheartened’ by their defeat at West Ham, pointing to a better overall performance as a genuine reason for Premier League hope.
The Hammers moved up to fourth but didn’t seal the 2-0 victory until the 83rd minute, with City surviving heavy pressure but seeing Adam Idah hit the post before that decisive goal.
“They have a lot of quality in all areas of the pitch and we knew that. Any team in this league you come up against are going to have that,” said Aarons.
“It’s frustrating to have lost but we can’t get too disheartened. It is frustrating to have lost so many games up to this point but we have to put our foot down now and change that.
“We have no choice but to rise up again and keep that performance level, with hopefully goals going in our favour and we start winning games.”
It was a sixth consecutive top-flight defeat without scoring to leave the Canaries knowing that slim survival hopes will start to fade unless they can take points at home to Everton on Saturday and at Watford next Friday.
“I’m going to look at it from the positive side,” the right-back continued. “A lot of teams have come here and found it really hard to compete here and play here.
“I thought up until the first goal we had executed our game plan really well, had a really good first half. It was disappointing in the manner we conceded, going into half-time 1-0 down.
“Then obviously we conceded late, which was really disappointing as well, but it was a better performance.
“If we can continue in that vein and keep it going into the Everton game, that can only stand us in good stead for the rest of the season.
“But we need to better in both boxes and start affecting games with goals because, ultimately, you can play as well as you want but goals change games.”
The 22-year-old notched his 150th appearance for City but ended Wednesday evening frustrated, with his outstretched leg leading to VAR overturning the second Jarrod Bowen goal, that had initially been disallowed as offside.
“It is frustrating, we’re chasing the game and we were trying to put everything into nicking a goal to get away with a draw,” Aarons added.
“Then the VAR decision, obviously it had been flagged for offside and it’s a toe. The other defenders in the box had trusted that he was offside, so it is frustrating.
“You maybe look back on it and if you could go back in time, you’d pull your leg back and it wouldn’t be a goal.
“But it is what it is, we have to take confidence from the performance and keep going, that’s all we can do and hopefully now we can put our foot down against Everton at home.”