As cameos go, making your bow at your home stadium by scoring inside 15 seconds and then adding an extra-time matchwinner with a soaring header takes some beating. Eddie Nketiah earned instant cult status at Arsenal after the teenager stole a show that had for a large part of the evening belonged to the ambitious visitors from Norwich. Come the final whistle the only word on everybody’s lips was simply “Eddie”.
Arsène Wenger has for decades used English football’s secondary cup competition to give youngsters a taste of first-team experience. Not many have seized the moment quite like Nketiah. He became the first player born after Wenger became manager here to score a goal for the club, a statistic that only adds to the sense of surreal wonder the new kid conjured up. “I am impressed by that to think he was not even conceived when I was already here,” said Wenger. “Life gives a chance to young people. Hopefully he will make a long career at Arsenal football club.”
The Carabao Cup may not naturally lend itself to fairy stories but this topsy-turvy evening was rich with opportunity. For the majority of an earnestly contested match the romance belonged to Norwich as they headed towards what would have been a well-deserved scalp. Late into the game they were winning 1-0 thanks to Josh Murphy’s audacious goal and the scoreline really could have been extended through a handful of golden chances.
Wenger fielded the second string and when it was not working a quick scan of a bench filled with inexperienced kids did not look too encouraging. But then came the extraordinary twist in the tale. Nketiah scuttled on for his home debut and within seconds the 18-year-old from south London was in the right place at the right time to pounce on a corner, prodding in the equaliser with his first touch for a moment he will always cherish.
The chant of “Eddie, Eddie,” coursed round the stadium, which was remarkable considering how few of the crowd had probably heard of Nketiah before kick-off. Almost single-handedly he brought his club an almighty lift.
If the first goal was all about predatory instinct, the second was about nerve and heart. “I like especially the header he scored,” said Wenger. “He is not tall. He has a determined attitude. When the team needs you and you can deliver, that is a quality that you don’t know until you put the player on.
“I don’t regret not putting experienced players on the bench. Eddie is a good example of why. If I had experienced players on the bench I would certainly have put them on instead of Eddie.”
An electric run offered the opportunity for a hat-trick but Angus Gunn – another youngster showing ready promise – was equal to it in the City goal. The little flashes Nketiah produced were reminiscent of Ian Wright’s dynamic and goal-hungry style but Wenger urged people to give the teenager time to develop in his own way. He left Chelsea to join Arsenal aged 14 and has never looked back, banging in goals throughout the youth levels.
With better finishing, better luck and better decisions from the officials Norwich could have been out of sight before Nketiah’s grand entrance. Mohamed Elneny was on the fortunate side to avoid a dismissal earlier in the game for taking down Nélson Oliveira.
Later James Husband was bought down in the penalty box, caught by Mathieu Debuchy’s flailing arm. It was harsh on Norwich, especially as they contributed so much.
Daniel Farke was candid enough to mix praise for his team with disappointment that the referee called key incidents against his team. “I wondered why he could have all these decisions in favour of Arsenal,” the Norwich manager said. “I am pretty sure the referee and linesman want to give their best and we have to accept these mistakes. To be honest it’s really annoying.”
The red card for Arsenal was “obvious”, in Farke’s view, and “several players of Arsenal said, ‘sorry for you, it was a clear penalty’”.
Farke also took issue with the award of the corner which decided the game. Norwich’s mission to hustle Arsenal, closing down in numbers to limit the home team from finding an easy groove, gave them a promising platform. On another day it might have been different. But this particular day belonged to Nketiah.
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