02 May 2022

Who needs Erling Haaland when we have Eddie Nketiah?

"No, Dec. Please. We're wasting valuable time."
Okay, okay, so that might be a touch hyperbolic and more than a smidge hasty. After all, Haaland hasn't played a single minute in the Prem so there's just no knowing if he could do what he's done on a cold, night at the Britannia Stadium. Considering that Stoke are mid-table in the Championship right now, he may never get a chance to prove that old cliche wrong. I don't know why I brought it up other than that it feels good to type "Stoke are mid-table in the Championship".  Let's get back to why I brought you all here, though. Eddie Nketiah put on his best performance of his young career against West Ham on Sunday. While he didn't score any goals, we've grown accustomed to that sort of thing around here. He did put four shots on target, and that, my fellow Gooners, allowed the 22-year old to clear a very low bar.

Let's get the delicious part of the way first. With West Ham desperately chasing an equaliser, Nketiah managed to wind up half of their squad by doing...nothing, really. For a full 20 seconds, Cresswell, Fornals, and others mobbed around Nketiah, who stayed as cool as a cucumber. Then, once it was all apparently sorted, Declan Arroz popped up to...waste more time jawing. Nketiah was not impressed, nor did he seem intimidated in the least, and Rice ended up looking like a right bellend for his efforts. An unbooked bellend, but a bellend all the same.

Back to the match itself, Nketiah played really rather well. He pressed, he dropped deep, he found spaces between the lines, he made runs, he—get this—took shots from outside the 18! They were well-taken shots, too, placed just inches from that sweet spot beyond the keeper's reach but still inside the post. If it weren't for special agent Fabiański making several vital saves to keep up appearances and maintain plausible deniability, Nketiah might very well have had a hat trick. One shot, one that he did put just wide, was so close to finding the back of the net that Fabiański himself struck that classic keeper pose of staying rooted to the spot, dropping his hands to his sides, and watching ruefully. Pity that there wasn't just a touch more curl to it.

It was his driving run and crisp shot that Fabiański could barely push wide that led to the corner that led to the first Prem goal of Rob Holding's career (good thing he got that new hairline—created just enough friction to steer the ball in. A balder Holdinho might have seen that ball sluice straight out of bounds). 

Probably the most-scintillating moment was in the 72nd minute when, seeing Eleny collect the ball and dribble forward, Nketiah singled to Elneny and started off on a run. Elneny's pass inch-perfect, and Zouma, whom Nketiah terrorised all afternoon, had to watch the player outrun him on his left while the pass zipped past on his right. In the end, the shot was wide, but it was still an exciting moment of the kid's potential. Another exciting moment, although it fizzled out spectacularly, came deep into stoppage time. Nketiah found himself with the ball at his feet about 15 yards from. A more-impetuous player might have tried to force a shot. Instead, Nketiah laid the ball off for Lokonga, who promptly sent a souvenir into the cheap seats. Despite the outcome, it was still the right move.

Now, again, I'm not here claiming that we should refuse Haaland's overtures. We just don't want to appear needy in our flirtations. All I'm suggesting is that our Eddie put in a strong performance, the kind that, should he start to repeat, might just warrant a new contract offer. At 22, there is still plenty of time for the lad to grow. In a few years' time, he may even be good enough to start. In the meantime, though, if we have to settle for the likes of Haaland, well, we could do worse than that.