Eddie Nketiah took just seconds to show Arsenal fans why they should be excited about him, so is he the real deal?
Arsenal were up against Norwich in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup. With six minutes of normal time remaining, the visitors were a goal up and resisting a rather tepid Gunners attack. Desperate for a spark, Wenger turned to his youthful bench of substitutes, and told 18-year-old striker Eddie Nketiah to get ready.
Nketiah came on for Reiss Nelson just as Arsenal were readying a corner. Before fans had even processed his arrival or figured out how to pronounce his name, he had found space in the Norwich penalty area and bundled in a Francis Coquelin flick-on.
It took fifteen seconds for Nketiah to score his first goal for the club and send the game into extra-time. Then he repeated his trick.
Another corner, this time finding his head on the edge of the six yard box. He planted the ball into the top corner, and set off the celebrate in front of the delirious home support.
Eddie, as the fans decided to call him, had well and truly arrived.
Born in Lewisham in south London, Nketiah started his football career with Arsenal’s rivals, Chelsea, who scouted him playing for Hillyfielders in 2008. He progressed through the various youth ranks, scoring goals all the while.
Yet, in 2015, when he had turned 16 and was eligible for a professional contract, Chelsea decided to let him go. The reason, Nketiah says, was that they considered him too small.
Chelsea’s loss was Arsenal’s gain. The story goes that Bob Arber, the head of Arsenal’s youth recruitment at the time, asked Joe Willock about him. Willock’s response was frank: “He’s being released? He’s sick! Every time he plays against us he scores.”
Nketiah was invited for a trial. He scored in a game against West Ham, and that was enough to convince Arsenal to sign him.
Arsenal’s “pocket rocket” stands at five feet seven inches, which is perhaps on the short side for a traditional number nine. While Chelsea worried about his size, it’s not been an issue for him at all.
Nketiah will be the first to tell you that his game is all about pace, movement and finishing, and his time in the Arsenal youth teams have proven that, if nothing else, he knows where the back of the net is.
His first season with the Arsenal u18s saw him score 24 goals in 28 appearances, including two hat-tricks. Such form earned him a call-up to Arsenal’s tour squad of Australia and China in the summer. He featured in a handful of friendly matches and struck the post twice, in what may have been foreshadowing of what was to come against Norwich.
That Carabao Cup game may not have been a surprise to anyone who had followed Nketiah’s short career.
Here was a striker who, no matter what level he played at, had an uncanny knack for scoring goals. He scored for Chelsea’s youth teams, Arsenal’s youth teams and the England youth teams. In two caps for the England u18 team, he scored four goals.
Now a part of the u19 age group, he has seven goals in six appearances.
His proficiency in the box, however, perhaps comes at the expense of being effective outside of it.
Nketiah has good ball control, but can be over-eager and in a hurry to get to goal. This is a side of his game Arsene Wenger will want him to work on before giving him further opportunities in the first team.
In addition, while his size may not prevent him from being a threat, he will need to bulk-up if he’s to face first team defences on a regular basis. His brief first team appearances have come as a wide player, and this could be a sign of things to come.
Nonetheless, you feel that wherever he is on the pitch, he’ll find a way to score.
Those goals in the Carabao Cup had all the hallmarks of a classic poacher. To use a famous footballling expression: he was the fox in the box, and Arsenal can always do with having a striker with that trait around.
Few young players have made such an immediate impact in the first team.
In a matter of hours, he had gone from being a barely known youngster to having his first name chanted by the Emirates crowd, receiving high praise from Arsene Wenger and Thierry, and being dubbed on Wikipedia as “Edward Keddar Pelé Maradona Ronaldinho Kaka Nketiah”.
Comparisons to Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford and Paris St. Germain’s Kylian Mbappe, two other teenage forwards to have made instant first team impacts, feel premature, but are indicative of the excitement surrounding him.
Wenger believes Nketiah could soon make an impact in the Premier League.
While Alexandre Lacazette and Olivier Giroud provide stiff competition, he’s returned to the youth teams and picked up where he left off.
A game for the England u19s against the Faroe Islands saw him score four goals in a 6-1 victory. Days later, he scored another goal, this time the winner against Iceland.
Goals follow wherever he goes, and the longer he keeps this up, the closer to the Arsenal first team he will be.