Arsenal had to fight hard to retain their place in the Carabao Cup after trailing to Norwich City for a long period of the match on Tuesday night. There appeared a lack of options available to Arsene Wenger on the bench, but one teenager stepped up and took the opportunity to make a name for himself. Eddie Nketiah was brought on in the 85th minute and scored seconds later with an instinctive finish from close range.
It was an incredible impact from the 18-year-old and this would have impressed everybody that was watching the game. The atmosphere was tense at this point with the supporters fearing a cup exit against a lower league side at home for the first time since 1983. There were groans every time an Arsenal player made an error on the ball. Few players were willing to try to make something happen in fear of making a mistake. These weren’t the best conditions for an inexperienced player to be coming into, but Nketiah wasn’t fazed by the occasion.
Young players are often confident in their ability and willing to put themselves about to make a positive impression. Nketiah certainly did this, displaying impressive positioning and composure for the first goal. However, it was his second of the evening that will be remembered most. The teenage striker met a good corner with a powerful header to give the home side a lead in extra-time. His physicality and goal-scoring instincts are the reasons why Arsenal are in the draw for the quarter-finals.
By scoring for the Gunners, the 18-year-old became the first player born after Arsene Wenger became the club’s manager to score for Arsenal. It was a huge risk to field the side that he did, while the lack of options on the bench left him with little room to manoeuvre. However, those decisions have led to a breakthrough moment for a young player and the Frenchman will look back with no regrets.
Who is Eddie Nketiah?
There will be a lot of people that will be unfamiliar with the 18-year-old, but he has been tipped for big things at the Emirates Stadium after making his debut in the Europa League earlier this season. Nketiah has been one of the club’s best players at youth level over the last two years. During that time, he has scored 48 goals across the age groups at Arsenal.
Chelsea fans will be forgiven for looking on with a sense of disappointment as Nketiah started his career at Stamford Bridge. He progressed through the ranks as a teen before being released by the club in 2015. Within two days, he was joining Arsenal. The quickness of the Gunners underlines how highly they thought of the teenager and he was understandably delighted:
“The day Arsenal showed they were interested in me was one of the happiest days I can remember.
“It wasn’t only because I’ve always been an Arsenal fan, but two days earlier I was told that I would be released by Chelsea and not given a scholarship for this season.”
It was important that Arsenal made their move quickly as the teenager would have been gutted after being released by Chelsea and a move to his boyhood club will have cushioned that disappointment. At a young age, a rejection like that can be brutal, but that wasn’t the case for Nketiah who bounced back quickly to join a massive club. To play for two of the top clubs in England by the age of 16 clearly shows the potential that the forward has.
His performances for the youth teams will have earned him a good reputation at the club and his goal-scoring ability earned him a spot on the recent pre-season tour. It is beneficial for young players to gain exposure like that and train with the first-team. Nketiah has obviously made an impression and his two goals against Norwich will likely lead to further opportunities with the first-team.
Should Arsenal fans be excited?
It is too early to overhype Nketiah as it is only one game, but it has been a long time since Arsenal had a young striker make an impression for the first-team. There have been several to be hyped, including Benik Afobe and Chuba Akpom, but none of them have managed to take their opportunity when it was presented to them.
Young players don’t get many opportunities and it is crucial that they impress when they are given a chance. Nketiah came on in a difficult situation and delivered a match-winning performance with two goals. It was evident that he is a confident player with a natural eye for goal coupled with a physicality to cope with first-team football.
Arsenal have some great options in attack, which means there is no need to rush Nketiah. However, his performance against Norwich will earn him more opportunities in the cups. The Europa League is a great platform to blood young talent. Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane both made their name in the competition. The teenage striker at the Emirates Stadium will be hoping to follow in their footsteps.