Eddie Nketiah got his first competitive minutes for Arsenal’s senior side against BATE Borisov, and today we’re looking at whether he could push on for the first team like Marcus Rashford has for Manchester United.
Signed by Arsenal in the summer of 2015, after being released by Chelsea in their endless collection of youth prospects that don’t make the senior squad, Eddie Nketiah had a breakthrough year for the Gunners’ youth teams in 2016/17, and has continued that strong form in the current campaign.
In 2015/16, his first season with the club, he made limited appearances for the u18s, but caught the eye with his impressive performances for the u19s in the Al Kass International Cup 2015.
Having turned 17 in May 2016, still eligible for both the u18s and the u23s, he spent the 16/17 season playing a part for both. This was most notable on one particular occasion, where, after running the United u23 defence ragged for 45 minutes and scoring to double Arsenal’s lead, he was subbed off at half-time so he could be available for the u18 match against Chelsea the next day.
In all, Eddie managed 24 goals in 33 appearances across the various youth teams in 16/17, with a goal coming every 88 minutes. This season, he’s already managed three goals and an assist in five games.
Due to his short stature, pace, and clinical finishing, Eddie has started to draw comparisons to the senior squad’s Alexis Sánchez. However, perhaps the more realistic comparison should be with Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford.
Another player who came through his club’s youth setup, Rashford has a similar style and body shape to Nketiah. Like Eddie, he has spent some time on the wing, but has made most of his standout performances playing as a runner in behind. Rashford (19) first burst onto the scene a year and a half ago, in a week most Arsenal fans would probably prefer not to be reminded of.
Is it now time for Eddie to get his first start, to see if he can do the same thing?
Competition is tough, of course. Alexis Sánchez, Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck and Alexandre Lacazette are all ahead of him, and one or two of them will probably want to play even in the smaller competitions like the League Cup. Like Reiss Nelson, he may have to settle for opportunities in unconventional positions, just to get the game-time.
But Wenger has clearly noted the youngster’s progress. Before the Doncaster Rovers match, he said in the Arsenal programme: “I like the quality of Eddie’s movement, the quality of the areas he goes into, his strength, determination to finish things off and his work-rate as well.”
That day the game never opened up enough for the Gunners to be able to risk bringing on the young striker. With two goals conceded against Borisov that game was never safe either, so Eddie only got on for the final minute.
Now Arsenal have another lower league cup tie against Norwich, and if the Europa League continues to go so smoothly there might be a dead rubber game or two at the end of the group stages.
There will be opportunities to play Nketiah, Arsène Wenger just needs to be willing to take one. Only then will we truly see if he can emulate the youngster at Manchester United.