In Focus: Ed-hot Nketiah repaying Arteta's faith
Eddie Nketiah is becoming the unlikely hero of Arsenal’s title charge.
Having not started a Premier League game this term prior to Boxing Day, the 23-year-old is proving to be a prolific stand-in for the injured Gabriel Jesus with seven goals in his last seven appearances across all competitions.
Nketiah’s future at the Emirates had looked uncertain last summer but the club’s decision to hand him a new contract now looks inspired — especially after his brilliant brace helped down Manchester United on Sunday.
Ahead of the North Londoners' FA Cup fourth-round tie at Manchester City on Friday night, we take a closer look at Nketiah’s season so far and consider if he can maintain his fabulous form.
Eddie was ready
Gunners fans around the globe shuddered in unison last month when star striker Jesus hobbled off injured during Brazil’s World Cup group stage clash with Cameroon.
At that point, it appeared a big-money move for a striker would be a necessity in January if the North Londoners were to sustain their unlikely tilt at a first Premier League title since 2004.
Mikel Arteta had other ideas, however.
Nketiah, released by Chelsea as a youngster, had shown real promise when starting the final eight league games of the 2021-22 season, netting on five occasions.
That form prompted Arsenal to table a new five-year deal last summer, along with the promise of more opportunities — a vow Arteta intended to keep.
Sure enough, he has thrown Nketiah into the deep end and the marksman is rewarding that trust in impressive style.
Eye for goal
Though Nketiah’s journey to becoming Arsenal’s starting striker has been a rocky one, he has always possessed a knack for finding the net.
As a teenager, he bagged 15 goals in 16 appearances for the Gunners’ Under-18s side, before going on to grab 28 in 40 for the club at U-21s level.
The Londoner has done it on the international stage, too. In 17 England U-21s outings, for example, he racked up a hugely impressive 16 strikes — a record-breaking tally.
There is a common belief in football that finishing ability is part-coached and part natural talent, so it should arguably come as no surprise how Nketiah has remained so ruthless throughout his rise to the top.
Arteta referenced that finishing ability following a brace over Oxford in the FA Cup earlier this month, saying: "He showed great composure. He's a great finisher, with the timing of his runs as well.
"He showed his quality and his work-rate is getting better and better. I'm really happy with him."
Fox in the box
Like all good centre forwards, Nketiah comes alive in the six-yard box.
While his sublime spin and shot was executed to perfection against West Ham on Boxing Day, his predatory instincts were required against Brighton to tap home a rebounded Gabriel Martinelli strike from close range.
His brace against the Red Devils in Sunday’s dramatic 3-2 win were certainly of the latter variety, too.
First, the No14 powered home a first-half header from all of six yards to level the contest, before diverting Martin Odegaard's effort past David de Gea in the game’s dying moments.
Nketiah is scoring the type of goal that many of the Premier League’s most reliable strikers made their bread and butter — Ruud van Nistelrooy, Michael Owen and Alan Shearer to name a few.
It is a habit that will surely have caught the attention of England boss Gareth Southgate.
In the short term, Nketiah will hope to ride the crest of a wave and keep producing the goods to help Arsenal towards a famous title.
Should he do that, it will pose somewhat of a conundrum for Arteta in March when the hugely-talented Jesus is targeting a return to action.
There is much to admire about the way the young Englishman has bided his time waiting for an opportunity to shine, before grasping the chance with both hands.
Yet one thing this hot streak is highlighting more than ever is that Nketiah is too talented to be playing second fiddle.
Arsenal must find a way of making him a permanent name on their team sheet for the years ahead — or another team surely will.