Five years ago, Eddie Nketiah could never have dreamed that he would be helping Arsenal to a valuable three points with a goal in a victory over Everton in the Premier League. Back then, striker Nketiah must have pondered whether or not he even had a future in football, let alone with the Gunners. For he had just been released by Chelsea, where he had been since the age of nine after scouts saw his impressive displays as he turned out for south London Sunday team Hillyfielders.
Arsenal, then under the stewardship of Arsene Wenger, took in the forward and he set about showcasing himself as an all-out frontman with pace, power and eye for goal. On Sunday, he was once again selected ahead of France ace Alex Lacazette to spearhead the attack under head coach Mikel Arteta. He prepaid his boss’s faith with a goal; a deft touch past a despairing Jordan Pickford in the Toffees’ goal from a wondrous cross from teenager sensation Bukayo Saka.
The fact that Nketiah is leading the line — while Lacazette waits for his chance to star from the bench — must feel extra special for the England U21 ace. He was loaned to Leeds United in the Championship at the start of the season by former Gunners coach Unai Emery; yet he struggled to get a game for the Elland Road outfit under Whites’ boss Marcelo Bielsa. Despite not featuring as much as he might have liked, Nketiah says he his Leeds experience was a good one and that he developed as a player. He said:
“I might not have played as much as I wanted but I had good moments when I was there when I came on and played. If you check my minutes-to-goal ratio it’s quite good but, obviously, it is just how things are. It was a very good environment to be in, he was a very demanding coach and I learned a lot.”
It all changed for him, and Arsenal, when Arteta arrived in north London to replace the axed Emery, stepping away from his role as assistant coach to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. Arteta, the former Glasgow Rangers, Everton and, of course, Arsenal midfielder, gambled on bringing Nketiah back to the club — and it has to be said the gamble has, so far, paid off. You can see the young attacker has all of the ingredients needed to be a leading marksman — speed, strength, guile, in-box nous — and with it he also has the benefit of being aged only 20.
His playing style has drawn comparisons with legendary Arsenal hitman Ian Wright. He joined the Gunners aged 28, so Nketiah has plenty of time to reach the unbelievable goal scoring record of the former England hero, who netted 185 goals from 288 appearances (279 starts).
Nketiah is still learning his craft and surely can only get better, much to the delight of Arsenal fans.