Eddie Nketiah has always been known as a poacher, turning in crosses or playing off the shoulder of the last defender and sprinting through on goal. Now he seeks to meet Mikel Arteta’s demands to become a more rounded centre forward for Arsenal, holding the ball up and also linking play as well as scoring.

Prolific in the Arsenal youth teams, and still holding the England Under-21 goalscoring record (16 in 17 games), Nketiah is now 24 and the time to shine is surely now. He’s played under Arsène Wenger, Unai Emery and now Arteta, and knows he has to contribute more than goals if he is to keep his starting place with Gabriel Jesus returning from knee injury.
His first England call-up has now come with his more all-round play for Arsenal.

Speaking after training at St George’s Park yesterday, Nketiah emphasised that he has benefited from starting more regularly for Arsenal, three of the five games so far this season. “I’ve always had more to my game than just goals,” Nketiah said. “When you score goals, it’s a really important role, but with the consistency and the games I’ve been getting, I’ve been allowed to showcase more sides to my game.

“What helps is the fact I have had opportunities from the start that allows you to build that rhythm and that confidence. Hopefully I can stay in the team and keep contributing to the team.

“Working under a manager like Mikel tactically makes you so much better, you understand your role as a striker so much more than what you have to do around the box.”

Nketiah watches and learns from Jesus — “a fantastic player, it’s nice to be competing with someone of that standard” — just as he does with Harry Kane — “a world-class striker” — at St George’s Park.

He takes inspiration and guidance from another celebrated attacker, Thierry Henry, even taking the No 14 shirt at Arsenal.

Nketiah has been inspired by another Arsenal No 14, saying Henry has helped him believe in himself

Nketiah has been inspired by another Arsenal No 14, saying Henry has helped him believe in himself


“Thierry’s been magnificent for me,” Nketiah said. “I was able to be coached by him as a first-year scholar at 16 [at Arsenal], it was amazing, one of my best and most enjoyable seasons, being able to bounce ideas off him.

“He came in and saw the quality I had and said that I just needed to believe in myself whatever anyone else said. That is what’s going to drive you, to motivate you. That’s probably one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received. I think he knows what he’s talking about, so it’s not a bad feeling! Still to this day when I see him he’s still supportive and still really helpful.

“Fourteen has always been a number I’ve liked. Obviously Thierry wearing it has made it a lot more special. I know what that number means to Arsenal fans and so I try to go out and give it my all on the pitch.

“When the number was available and offered to me, it was something I embraced. I’m not here to try and recreate Thierry’s moments. I’m here to put my own stamp on it and create my own special memories in the shirt.”

It was Nketiah’s poaching prowess, particularly in a tournament for Hillyfielders, his Sunday team near Catford in southeast London, that had Chelsea pursuing him aged nine. He was released by Chelsea who felt he wasn’t tall enough. “At a young age, I had to deal with a big setback, it makes you resilient,” he said. “I know what it feels to be at the bottom and be out and I don’t want to be back there. We all have talent but what separates you is your mentality and how much I want it.

“It came as a shock to me because I was doing well at the time. It gives you an awakening and just knowing that things can change like that — that you can lose everything you have worked for. It gives you that extra bit of motivation and resilience when times are hard. I’m able to dig a level deeper than maybe some people can or don’t want to go into.”

He reflects on the sacrifices he and his family made. “It’s a long list. My dad would drive me to every game, home and away, tours as a kid, he would book a flight, come, watch and support. Mum would stay up washing kit, sisters would finish school and come and pick me up to put me on a train all the way to Cobham or Hale End. Also when you get released, them being there and supporting me, and knowing it’s not the end of the world.

“I’ve always believed that I can make it and play here [Arsenal]. There’s always been transfer talk and speculation, but I’m happy that I’ve taken this route and I’m proud to be part of Arsenal. It feels like home to me.

“Throughout my career there have been a lot of changes in management, which is unusual for Arsenal because they had always had one manager. I think I played under three different managers and as a young player that makes it hard to gauge where you are. You have to prove yourself each year. It’s been good to have Mikel here for a few years and I’ve been able to establish myself and move up through the ranks. I’m in a good place.”

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