The dream for every young player is to make their debut for the first team.
To also score the winner in extra time? That’s the equivalent of dreamland Nirvana – but our very own Eddie Nketiah can always claim his debut for Arsenal was the perfect one.
The League Cup encounter versus Norwich was going the same way as our season – South. The Canaries had pretty much played us off the park, our own efforts frustratingly blocked by bodies on the line and our own final third failings.
We were heading for another exit at the hands of lower league opposition.
Step forward Super Eddie Nketiah.
With mere minutes remaining, his first touch was a goal. It rescued the tie for us, and Eddie was mobbed by his relieved teammates. The teenager had saved each and every one of them.
It was to get better, as in extra time, Nketiah scored the winner, to send Gooners into delirium and ensure that his debut would be one he would never forget.
It also meant that Eddie would be on the fringes of the first team squad for the rest of the season. This, in turn, meant that when Aidy Boothroyd selected his England Under-21 squad for the Toulon tournament, Eddie was on the radar.
Nketiah played three times in the tournament, and scored twice, to give him an excellent scoring ratio for his country – and also underline that his talent is not just a flash in the pan. Every level he has stepped up to since being released at Under-14 level by Chelsea, the youngster has met the standard required. It takes mental strength and no little degree of pure talent, but the boy from Lewisham has met the mark for every test put in front of him.
This coming season though, represents the unknown for Nketiah, and perhaps a huge decision for him to make.
Another season like his last would not suffice. The boy desperately needs games, he needs to go through a season and make 30 or so appearances, and see whether he can last at a higher level for the duration.
This would signify a loan move, and there would be no end of takers for the striker – although choosing a host club is so important after many of our young charges last season were criminally underplayed whilst on loan.
If he gets a chance, he will score, but he also needs luck with injury and a coach that is open to the mistakes a youngster will make. Managers can be forgiven to a degree for being ruthless when a player is short of form, thanks to the results-driven nature of their position. There needs to be a balance though, so it is with great care that if Eddie does go on loan, we need to pick a club and manager that will help him blossom – rather than see him as just an extra body in the squad.
Alternatively, Unai Emery is not averse to playing kids in his teams and giving them the opportunities they desire. If Eddie did stay and try to force his way into the team this early, then Emery would most likely give him a shot if he is applying himself in training. In terms of a rhythm of games though? that is decidedly doubtful.
The good thing with this young man is that he tasted rejection early in his career, and Arsenal swooped in and gave him another shot. He will have a loyalty to the club, and will want nothing more than to wear the shirt and play games. If it is at the entropy of his fledgling career though, and he has a chance elsewhere?
He could well move on. Just look at Chris Willock and Marcus McGuane at Benfica and Barcelona respectively.
Our pre-season tours are the perfect chance to give Eddie his shot up top. They may be friendlies, but they will give Emery a great chance to gauge his men on the pitch.
Eddie’s career at Arsenal could hinge on his showings in Singapore and the Champions Trophy.
Let’s hope now that Jack has departed the club, we can have another Arsenal youth talent to pin our hopes to.