Eddie Nketiah: Arsenal’s next big thing?

After a string of dismal performances in the league, Arsenal finally showed up in their last match of the campaign at Burnley. The Gunners won the match 3-1, thanks to their Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who scored a brace and become the first player since Robin van Persie to bring the Premier League Golden Boot to the Emirates Stadium (although Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah tied his total). However, the third goal perhaps had more importance for the club’s future, as it opened the account for youngster Eddie Nketiah in Premier League.

The Arsenal academy product needed this goal ahead of the next season to boost his morale. It was his maiden goal since becoming the third choice striker of the first team after, Danny Welbeck was ruled out for the season at the end of last year. It was a great opportunity for the 19-year-old to make a case for himself in Unai Emery’s team.

Though Nketiah has not materialized like Arsenal fans have wanted him to this year, but scoring this goal to put the final win away – a tough win, mind you – has to feel good. He scored Arsenal’s last goal of the Premier League season, and that can only set him up for exciting times ahead.

Nketiah started his career at Chelsea’s academy after being scouted at the age of nine while playing for south-east London Sunday team Hillyfielders. After he was released by Chelsea at under-14 level in 2015, he then joined the Arsenal academy and played for the club at youth levels. During the 2016–17 season, Nketiah scored 15 goals in 16 appearances for the under-18s while also bagging 12 goals in 26 appearances for the under-23 side. After that season, Nketiah was called up by Arsene Wenger for the senior side’s pre-season trip to Australia and China

He first made his presence felt on 25 October, 2017, when Arsenal hosted Norwich City for a round of 16 match in the Football League Cup. Wenger fielded a very young side mostly compiled with academy players. It was expected that, the young Arsenal side would go to the quarter-final with ease. However, a spirited Norwich performance surprised everyone inside the stadium. The Canaries were just 5 minutes away from reaching the quarter-final, before Eddie Nketiah scored an equalizer, just 15 seconds coming off the bench in the 85th minute.

The match went to extra time and the 17-year-old put the game to bed with his second. The impact of Nketiah brought a serious amount excitement for Arsenal fans.

It was believed that at the start of the 2018/19 season, Nketiah will be sent on a loan spell in order to get some much needed game time. At a time, when young British players are opting tactically exciting Bundesliga to develop their game Arsenal chose to keep him in the academy team. The decision was made after the appointment of new manager Unai Emery, who wanted Nketiah to train with first team.

The 19-year-old begun the season playing for the first team in the Europa League group stages, but failed to grab that opportunity. He then went back to Arsenal U-23s and played in the Premier League 2 Division 1, where he terrorized opposition defences for fun.

After Welbeck’s injury he got an opportunity to shine and many Arsenal fans thought it to be his breakthrough season. However, he didn’t get much playing time ahead of Arsenal’s dynamic strike duo Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette. Nketiah showed his class in sporadic substitute appearances, but failed to score.

Nketiah is a talented and versatile forward, capable of playing in several attacking positions: he has been deployed as a centre forward, as an out-and-out striker, as a false 9, as an inside forward or as a winger, and is renowned for his pace, technical skills, dribbling ability, finishing, movement, and work ethic. As Arsenal announced that they’ll not extend Danny Welbeck’s contract which will expire at the end of the season, Nketiah will get more opportunities to cement himself in Emery’s new Arsenal team.   

By: Saikat Chakrobaty