Football

Wenger hails rising starlet Nketiah

Teenager signals his arrival on the big stage with a brace to rescue Arsenal's League Cup campaign

Arsenal may have unearthed the next big thing after Eddie Nketiah came off the bench to steer the Gunners to a 2-1 win over Norwich in the League Cup yesterday morning (Singapore time).

The Canaries looked on the way to an upset win at the Emirates with a 34th-minute goal by Josh Murphy, until 18-year-old Nketiah equalised for the hosts with five minutes to go.

The striker then made it a home debut to remember by nodding in the winner six minutes into extra-time of the fourth-round clash.

The sparkling performance by the former Chelsea youth player impressed manager Arsene Wenger, who said that he can't remember the last time he saw a such a young player make such a big impact at Arsenal.

Said the Frenchman: "He was decisive and he has the flair to anticipate when you are in the box. That's a quality you cannot give at that age anymore. You either have it or you don't, so that's very positive for him.

"We needed to score goals and he can score goals. Overall, in the end, we had eight strikers on the pitch.

"I know Eddie has the qualities but, when the team need you and you can deliver that, that's another quality that you don't know before you put the players on and he has shown that.

"I like especially the second goal because he is not tall and you will see where he took the header. It shows that he has a fantastic leap as well.

"Heading is a determined attitude and that shows as well the character and desire to score."

Asked if his predatory instinct reminds him of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, Wenger cautioned against jumping the gun.

  • DATE OF BIRTH May 20, 1999 (Age: 18)

    POSITION Forward, who can also play as a winger

    STRENGTHS Speed and finishing, likened to Arsenal great Thierry Henry

    Clubs Joined Arsenal from Chelsea in 2015

    SENIOR DEBUT Last month, in Arsenal’s 4-2 win over Bate Borisov

    INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE England U-18s, U-19s

    INTERNATIONAL HIGHLIGHT Hat-trick against Qatar (4-0 win) in an U-18 game this March

He said: "Let's not be too quick. One of the problems nowadays is people are very quick to judge.

"He has top qualities and he is one of the players who was with me in pre-season and that's why I knew he could give us something when he comes on."

The League Cup is traditionally Wenger's platform to introduce the club's rising stars.

Arsenal played with an entirely different starting XI that beat Everton 5-2 in the English Premier League last weekend.

Nketiah has played for both the Under-18 and U-23 Arsenal sides since joining from Chelsea in 2015. He has also represented England at the U-18 and U-19 levels and is the first player born after Wenger's appointment, in September 1996, to score for the Gunners.

SURREAL EXPERIENCE

Nketiah admitted it was a surreal scene at the final whistle, as the home crowd chanted his name.

"I'm just delighted to make my home debut and score two goals for Arsenal. It's a great feeling for me and my family," Nketiah told Sky Sports.

"To hear the fans screaming my name, it's been a childhood dream for me. Hopefully, it's just the start and you will see many more goals and better performances from me.

"It made me feel very privileged to be welcomed by the fans. I just want to continue impressing them because they mean a lot to the club and me."

Nketiah's display yesterday morning had the Arsenal camp purring with excitement.

Club legend Thierry Henry tweeted: "What a night for @EddieNketiah9. So happy for him and not surprised at all!"

Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere was another to compliment the youngster, tweeting: "Good to be in the hat for the next round. Well done to Eddie Nketiah different class mate. Thanks to the fans also, kept us going."

Asked if he would reward the youngster with an EPL appearance soon, Wenger said: "I don't rule anything out.

"But, as I told you, he has played only 40 minutes today and we need to give him time to develop, and we cannot be too impatient in developing stars." - WIRE SERVICES

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