Daniel Matthews: Eddie Nketiah is responding with Arsenal ‘in an exceptional way’


The final whistle went, Eddie Nketiah fell flat on his back and the stadium DJ pressed play. First up on his post-match playlist? Rockin’ All Over the World.

It’s become a firm favourite in these parts, ever since supporters tweaked the lyrics in honour of a couple of academy graduates: Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe.

Before this rendition had finished, however, many here had begun to drown out the music with an ode to another one of their own.

Eddie Nketiah’s form has stepped up when Arsenal needed him with Gabriel Jesus sidelined

‘Eddie, Eddie, Eddie,’ they chanted from the stands. And on the touchline, where Arsenal’s crocked contingent waited to continue the celebrations.

Among them? Gabriel Jesus, who wore a wide smile and embraced Nketiah as he headed for the tunnel.

To think there were serious fears that the Brazilian’s knee injury, suffered during the World Cup, might derail Arsenal’s season.

Six matches later, Mikel Arteta’s side continue to crash through psychological barriers that threaten to dent their title aspirations.

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta called Nketiah, who scored twice in Sunday's match, 'a special kid'

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta called Nketiah, who scored twice in Sunday’s match, ‘a special kid’ 

This was another huge result and another huge day for Nketiah. Perhaps his finest yet in an Arsenal shirt.

‘Losing Gabi was a big blow. It is a big blow. But Eddie is responding with the team in an exceptional way,’ Arteta said.

‘He’s a special kid. He’s so loved by everybody at the football club. He’s got a real Arsenal heart and that’s very special. You cannot put that into numbers, but he’s really, really good.’

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Only two Arsenal players have scored last-minute winners against Manchester United in the Premier League – Thierry Henry and now Arsenal’s new No 14.

The England striker is now Arsenal's top goalscorer this season with nine strikes to his name

The England striker is now Arsenal’s top goalscorer this season with nine strikes to his name

It was an instinctive flick and the striker’s second of a pulsating afternoon. Earlier, with Arsenal trailing 1-0, he ran off Aaron Wan-Bissaka to head home.

It means Nketiah’s recent record now reads: seven goals in seven matches. Thirteen goals in his last 13 starts at the Emirates.

He is Arsenal’s top scorer this season with nine – having started only 13 matches – and since the World Cup, the 23-year-old has scored four goals in five Premier League matches.

Marcus Rashford is the only English striker with more (five) and he is currently the most deadly forward in Europe.

Harry Kane, Ivan Toney, Ollie Watkins – they all trail Nketiah over the past few weeks.

Marcus Rashford is the only English player to have scored more club goals since the World Cup

Marcus Rashford is the only English player to have scored more club goals since the World Cup

Penny for the thoughts, then, of Gareth Southgate, who was watching at the Emirates.

Since Nketiah became the record goalscorer for England’s Under-21s, his path to the first team has been blocked.

In truth, the 23-year-old hasn’t played enough to enter Southgate’s mind. Instead, Ghana have been trying to persuade him to pursue other avenues.

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But Monday marks two months until England’s next international and should Nketiah continue like this, it’s hard to see how Southgate won’t pick up the phone.

Not a sentence many would have predicted pre-Christmas. Even Arteta.

Arteta said he did not forsee Nketiah's importance to Arsenal, but his form is clear to see

Arteta said he did not forsee Nketiah’s importance to Arsenal, but his form is clear to see

‘What Eddie is doing is incredible. I cannot say we saw that (coming),’ the manager admitted.

‘We were hoping that he could do that because of the way he is, his mentality, and how his qualities fit in the team.’

All he ever needed was a chance. At the back end of last season, Nketiah enjoyed a run of games that earned him a new long-term deal.

Since then, many have wondered why he bothered signing it. After all, the arrival of Gabriel Jesus consigned him to the fringes once more.

But Arteta never doubted his importance. Why? ‘The qualities that he has, how much he wants it, how much belief he has to be Arsenal No 9, his desire, his background. We are with him every single day.’

It is hard to see how Arteta could drop Nketiah, even with a full squad of options open to him

It is hard to see how Arteta could drop Nketiah, even with a full squad of options open to him

Against United, sandwiched between the experienced pair of Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez, chances were never going to come easily. No outfield Arsenal starter touched the ball less often than Nketiah yesterday. Except Ben White, and he was hooked after 45 minutes.

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But still the striker earnt three golden chances. The first he took, the second forced a fine save from David De Gea. The third sent this place barmy.

‘You could see how much we wanted to win for ourselves and our fans,’ the striker said. ‘When you have got guys like (Saka) around you the chances are going to fall… I kept going and I knew if I was around and alert, with the way we were playing we would get chances. Thankfully I was able to take it.’

Nketiah had a big miss in the closing stages, but overcame that to nab the 90th minute winner

Nketiah had a big miss in the closing stages, but overcame that to nab the 90th minute winner

His desire to come again, having missed that late chance, is testament to Nketiah’s mental strength.

‘He’s going to miss more chances this season,’ Arteta added. ‘I guarantee you that the next one he’s going to try to do that again. He’s not going to hide.’

Arsenal will still have to cope without Jesus for some time yet. On this form, however, how can Nketiah be left out?



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