Non-stop action. Great goals. Controversies galore. European football rarely lacks for talking points after any given weekend of football; ESPN India gives you one standout moment from all the action across Europe’s top 5 leagues (league action only).
This weekend, we pick Eddie Nketiah’s winner for Arsenal over Manchester United.
In the end, all it took was contorting his leg behind him and a flick with his boot.
Not the hardest of goals Eddie Nketiah will ever score, perhaps not even this season, but possibly the most pivotal. It wasn’t just a 90th-minute winner, it was confirmation of Arsenal’s title credentials and maybe even that of Eddie Nketiah as Arsenal’s leading front-man.
While pundits have been at pains to point out that these games are litmus tests for Arsenal, it’s easy to forget that these are quite the examinations for Nketiah too. Every miss, every misplaced pass, a stick to beat him with, a chance to remind everyone of Gabriel Jesus’ absence. Thus, when he couldn’t score a gilt-edged chance in the 84th minute – David de Gea with another of his stunning saves, but Nketiah could’ve placed it better – you’d expect most 23-year-old backup strikers to hide.
But Nketiah doesn’t hide. Not if you’ve been paying attention.
Released at the tender age of 14 by Chelsea, Nketiah has worked since then to prove his naysayers wrong. In a week where Chelsea nicked away a high-profile transfer target from Arsenal, there was a certain poetic justice in a Chelsea reject possibly sparking Arsenal’s title challenge into life.
And so, there he was, not hiding but lurking for another sniff at goal. Arsenal had threatened all evening and, when new signing Leandro Trossard drove at the United defence in the 90th minute and released a perfectly timed pass for Oleksandr Zinchenko in space down the left wing, Nketiah made a clever darting run behind Lisandro Martinez. Zinchenko, who’d been magnificent all night, spied Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard dashing into the box and found him with a grass-cutter of a cutback – Odegaard connected, but saw his shot spoon off Fred sliding in and loop towards Nketiah.
It’s the perfect moment to pause on a rewatch simply because of the emotions on display – hearts in mouths, equal amounts of panic and hope. They needn’t have worried – Eddie was always going to score. He always has.
Just like his senior debut for Arsenal, where Nketiah came on with his side a man down and trailing 1-0, before scoring with his first touch and later heading the ball home for an injury-time winner.
Just like his first game as captain for the England U-21 team, when he capped it off with a hat-trick.
Just like Arsenal’s 4-2 win over Chelsea last season, when Nketiah replaced an underperforming Alex Lacazette and grabbed a brace, prompting Mikel Arteta to admit “If there is one player I have been unfair with, it is him… He showed me again how wrong I was.”
Just like early in this game, when Nketiah produced a textbook run in Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s blind spot to evade his marker, leap high and hang majestically in the air like the best centre-forwards of yore before powering a header into the net.
… and unpause. There’s that leg, twisting its way behind Nketiah, him balancing himself on one foot like this was Baryshnikov in the Nutcracker, not the Premier League, and then flicking the ball into the net with his boot.
The goal, the roar, the elation, and then the nerves of a VAR check before an even louder celebration in the stands when the goal was confirmed. Hands around his ears, Nketiah lapped it all up. The air of a man who’d scored 13 goals in his last 13 starts at the Emirates stadium. The pitch, the stadium, the adulation – all his.
– Eddie Nketiah �� (@EddieNketiah9) January 22, 2023
He’s no shrinking violet – he picked Thierry Henry’s iconic #14 shirt, which hangs heavy on any Arsenal player. Nketiah may not have Henry’s talent but he does have something the Frenchman valued the most: Heart. It’s carried him through rejection, through rough loan spells, through languishing on the sidelines, through dry spells in front of goal.
And it will carry him through this journey to guide Arsenal back to the promised land.