When news broke earlier this week that Arsenal striker Gabriel Jesus needed to undergo surgery to repair damage to his knee, the Arsenal faithful let out a collective groan. Lamentations about the end of the Gunners’ title hopes were almost instantaneous. Jesus’ impact on the attack in his first season with the club has been nothing short of transformative for an Arsenal side that sit atop the Premier league table for the first time in many years, and losing a talismanic attacker who pulls strings like Jesus does is as close to a death knell for title aspirations as it gets.
In the wake of such heavy news, the knee-jerk reactions were swift, as the outlook for the season shifted from optimistic to grim in the time it took for the news to break. The unseasonal World Cup was an unwelcome intrusion into an historic campaign, and the tournament brought forth one of the worst fears that wedging such an intense competition into the middle of a season can bring - a long term injury to a key player. With those fears confirmed, Gunner fans found themselves staring into the void once more, unable to resist the familiar siren song of despair.
As easy as it would be, now is not the time to give up hope.
Now is the time for Eddie Nketiah to step up, and for the gaffer and the fans to back him.
Despite the relative gap between he and Gabriel Jesus, we know what Eddie can do when given the chance. It was less than a year ago when he took over for the worn out husk of Alexandre Lacazette in the spring and lead the line with tenacity in a late top four push. His pace and pressing immediately gave the Gunners an incisive edge that was lacking in Laca. The academy grad grew up before our very eyes with a series of impressive performances that saw his value to the club skyrocket in the matter of weeks.
And he was rewarded for his efforts in the summer with a contract extension and the coveted no. 14 kit. In those two moments, Eddie was given a show of faith by the club and manager that says they see him as more than just a depth player, but a central part in the club’s attack. Ahead of him now lies the opportunity to repay that faith, am opportunity he has been preparing himself for after many years of patience.
The instinctive response to Gabriel’s injury from fans and pundits has been that Arsenal now need to purchase a striker in the winter window. Sure, they could. But why would they? A reactionary purchase could leave the Gunners bent over the barrel, paying too much for a player who will provide three months of depth before creating even more of a logjam at the striker position when Gabriel Jesus returns. With how Arteta has meticulously rebuilt the team, a panic buy seems highly unlikely.
It’s a bit of a gamble, but Arsenal can make do for three months. The depth in the attack is not only talented, but versatile. Emile Smith Rowe’s return means that the rotation can improve, as either he or Gabriel Martinelli can play centrally in a pinch. Eddie will lead the line, but there will be others ready to pick up the mantle as well.
This is Eddie’s time to shine, a chance that has been in the works since he first laced up his boots as a fresh-faced Hale End prospect in 2015. It was what he was working toward as he set scoring records for England’s youth sides. Eddie can follow in the footsteps of fellow Academy grad Bukayo Saka and become the next Arsenal Academy success story.
It may be dramatic to say, but in Jesus’s absence, Eddie Nketiah has the chance to etch his name into Arsenal lore. These are the moments that players dream of, and Eddie, the ever-patient Hale End graduate, is undoubtedly ready for this opportunity. The best players are. If Arsenal find themselves atop the champion’s podium in May, it will be largely in part because Eddie stepped up and made his mark when it mattered.
You’ve got this, kid.