Eddie Nketiah had to wait until 30 games into the season before he got his first start in the Premier League, but he didn’t waste much time in proving his worth once in the team.
Mikel Arteta has admitted all season that he’s found it difficult not to afford more minutes to the striker, and on Wednesday night at Stamford Bridge, Nketiah made a huge claim to stay in the side.
Given his chance away to Southampton when Alexandre Lacazette missed out through injury, Nketiah was back in the side against Chelsea, and fired us ahead from the edge of the area when latching on to a loose Andreas Christensen back pass.
In the second half he gave us the lead for the third time in the game, prodding home expertly after more indecision in the Chelsea defence.
After the game at Stamford Bridge Arteta said that Nketiah had “showed me how wrong I was” not to play him more often this season.
Ahead of Saturday’s match with Manchester United, the boss elaborated on why the Arsenal academy product deserves more chances.
“Because he doesn’t give us anything else than the best every single day,” he said. “The way he trains, the way he wants to improve, the attention that he pays, how he behaves when he plays when he doesn’t play.
“He is just a phenomenal player and he has shown, not to me, I think to the whole team and that’s why he is so respected in the dressing room the type of person he is.”
Opta stats showed that the 22 year old’s first goal against Chelsea was scored from further out than any of his previous 18 Arsenal goals - 16 yards – and Arteta added that he has been working on his all round play, not just his finishing, recently.
“It’s something he works almost everyday on,” he said of the striker, who is England Under-21s all-time leading goalscorer.
“We know this capacity he has to make runs in behind - the timing of it and how he attacks the box. But his link up play, understanding of spaces, timing of receptions, where he wants to come and work, which passes and spaces he will find afterwards has improved a lot.
“At Stamford Bridge was a really good example of that.”
There may well be parallels to be drawn between Nketiah’s display against Chelsea on Wednesday night, and fellow academy product Emile Smith Rowe’s own performance against the Blues last season at the Emirates.
Back in December 2020 Smith Rowe burst on to the scene with a similarly eye-catching performance, and has been a fixture in the side ever since.
“In football anything can happen,” Arteta added. “Emile had had three months out with his shoulder and a lot of things happened, he was getting back and he was looking really good, and we decided to give him the opportunity. But then he had to step in and he had to perform.
“He has done it really consistently and especially this season as well with the amount of goals he is scoring.
“Eddie has this capacity. What he needs is opportunity, time and support, especially when he has difficult moments. If you are ready and prepared to do it, I am sure he will be successful.
“If you have that character and that quality, to show it immediately or very quickly, things can turn very quickly. Look what happened with Eddie in the last two weeks.”
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