Arsenal fans don’t have much to be cheerful about at the moment when it comes to the senior side, but perhaps teenage striker Eddie Nketiah is providing some hope for the future at least.
Nketiah proved that he might be the most exciting prospect in the Gunners academy by scoring a hat trick for England’s Under-18s on Monday night in their 4-0 win over Qatar.
It’s only the latest in a string of impressive performances that have spurred the belief that Arsenal may have finally found a worthy successor to Thierry Henry.
So who is Nketiah? Here are five things to know about the 18-year-old talent.
Monday’s hat trick confirmed what Nketiah’s followers already knew: He just can’t stop scoring. The forward is seen as the most natural finisher on the club’s books and led the Arsenal U18s last season with 24 goals in 28 games. This campaign, he has 19 goals in 18 starts for the youth sides, including an impressive hat trick for the U23s against Leicester in November, when he was still 17. His England hat trick came after he also netted a goal on his debut last week.
Inevitably, Nketiah’s performances have drawn plenty of comparisons to Henry, Arsenal’s all-time leading goalscorer. And like the former France striker, Nketiah combines a poacher’s instincts with the ability to score spectacular goals. His hat trick against Leicester included a stunning curler into the far top corner and a run from inside his own half that was finished off with a low strike from the edge of the area. Heading the ball remains a weak point, but one that Nketiah has acknowledged and is working hard to improve.
“My game is mainly pace, movement and finishing, but I’ve made an effort to hold the ball up better, which is something vital for the team and that Olivier Giroud does so well,” Nketiah told the Arsenal website recently.
Training with first team
Nketiah has yet to make an appearance for Arsenal’s first team, but often trains with the senior squad under the watchful eye of Arsene Wenger. And he seems to be holding his own even when going up against the likes of Laurent Koscielny and Petr Cech.
“I’ve scored a couple past Petr Cech, which I was happy about, because he’s such a top-class keeper. I know it was a training game, but it still gives me the belief that if I can score past him, I can do the same against any goalkeeper,” Nketiah said.
Let go by Chelsea
If Nketiah goes on to have a successful career at senior level, Arsenal fans will take extra pleasure from the fact that the club snapped him up after he was let go by London rivals Chelsea. Nketiah signed for Chelsea as a boy, but was released from the Blues’ academy in 2015. Arsenal quickly pounced, inviting him for a trial before making the forward a full scholar. He was given his first professional contract last season and it seems a good bet that Chelsea could soon be ruing one that got away.
Wenger has taken a cautious approach with Nketiah so far and hasn’t even included him in any of his EFL Cup squads, which usually feature a handful of academy members. But the forward seems ready to break onto the big stage next season, either at Arsenal or on loan somewhere else. A loan spell might be the most likely option, as it would give him regular football at the senior level, something that will still be hard to come by at the Emirates. But having seen the rapid rise of Hector Bellerin and Alex Iwobi into first-team regulars, it seems only a matter of time before Nketiah follows in their footsteps.