Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah inspired to emulate Gabriel Jesus as match-winner makes starting case

·3-min read
Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah inspired to emulate Gabriel Jesus as match-winner makes starting case

The Europa League has often been labelled as a distraction for Premier League teams, but try telling that to Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah.

The striker was the Gunners’ hero in Switzerland on Thursday night, scoring the winner as they beat FC Zurich 2-1 to kick off their European campaign with a win.

It was a deserved reward for Nketiah, who revelled in his first start of the season having previously been limited to impressive cameos in the top-flight.

That was particularly the case against Fulham last month, when Mikel Arteta took off left-back Kieran Tierney and threw on Nketiah. From 1-0 down, he helped turn things around as Arsenal won 2-1.

The 23-year-old, who signed a new long-term contract in the summer, further put forward his case to start in Switzerland. It demonstrated why the Europa League will be an important competition for Arsenal this season as it will satisfy players’ hunger for more minutes.

Eddie Nketiah scored the winning goal for Arsenal on his first start of the season in Zurich (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Eddie Nketiah scored the winning goal for Arsenal on his first start of the season in Zurich (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Nketiah set up debutant Marquinhos for Arsenal’s opener in the 16th minute and then, after giving away a penalty that Mirlind Kryeziu converted, he scored the winner in the second half by heading home at the back post.

The goal capped off an impressive display from Nketiah, who has so far had to sit and watch Gabriel Jesus hit the ground running at Emirates Stadium.

The Brazilian is clearly Arsenal’s first-choice No9, but the Europa League will provide an opportunity for Nketiah to show he is viable competition and possibly someone who could even play alongside Jesus.

There has been a noticeable improvement in Nketiah’s all-round game since the summer. He looks stronger and his ability to hold the ball up and link play has come on leaps and bounds.

On this evidence, Nketiah will be crucial to Arsenal’s hopes of ending their 28-year wait for a European trophy

Before with Nketiah, there was a sense that he was nothing but a penalty-box striker. But he is adapting his game to become more of a complete forward.

That is what Arteta demands from his No9 and it feels clear that Jesus’ arrival is driving Nketiah on to emulate what the £45million signing from Manchester City offers.

On several occasions in Switzerland, Nketiah received the ball to feet and set it back, but he was equally happy to spin and turn his man before driving at the Zurich defence - a skill that Jesus has used often this season.

Nketiah led the line well and his assist for Marquinhos' goal underlined the composure he is adding to his game. Played in by Fabio Vieira, who impressed on his first Arsenal start, Nketiah drove the ball down the left flank before picking out Marquinhos with a drilled cross.

The 19-year-old Brazilian made no mistake, firing home before dropping to his knees as the emotion of scoring on his debut washed over him.

After a clumsy challenge from Nketiah before half-time gave Zurich a penalty and an equaliser, you feared he would leave Switzerland as the villain.

Instead, though, Nketiah made himself the hero in the second half by peeling off his marker and heading Marquinhos’ cross home from the back post.

It was no more than Nketiah deserved and, after having to wait six weeks for his first start, the 23-year-old will be delighted to have made his mark.

When he signed a contract in the summer, Nketiah stressed he made the decision as he was convinced he would get the minutes he wanted at Arsenal.

On the evidence of Thursday night he could be right and, if Arteta is to achieve his aim of ending Arsenal’s 28-year wait for a European trophy, Nketiah will be crucial.