The year is 2028. A 28 year old Eddie Nketiah, fresh off of winning the Golden boot from the previous season, steps up to the spot. He converts, coolly, and Arsenal dispatch have done the double over Man City, paving the way for yet another Prem title. Nketiah is mobbed by teammates, but his own celebration is muted. After all, he’s walked this path before; this is not the first title-winning goal he’s scored, nor will it be the last. He’s overtaken Giroud, Walcott, and Bergkamp and is sizing up van Persie. Why not?
Okay, so let’s not get carried away here. Yes, Nketiah did register his first ever hat-trick, and he did pass on a chance at matching Henry, Arshavin, and Baptista’s four goals scored when he gave Vieira the chance to convert the penalty that the Portugeuse player earned (am I alone in feeling like It should be “Portugeusian?”). Then again, it was Sheffield United, after all, and we shouldn’t make too much of any player who scores against them.
Still, it must be noted that Nketiah did very well for each of his three goals. While there was an element of poacher’s luck to his first two, and while the third came from a speculative effort, none of those caveats should detract from the fact that Nketiah is quite good at getting into dangerous positions. If he could just continue to convert from those positions as he did today, the idea of his winning a Golden Boot wouldn’t feel so far-fetched.
Let’s face facts, though. For as much as we might hail our Hale End lad, he’s not up to snuff. At his current level, he might approximate Lacazette or Bendtner or Giroud—long stretches of varying degrees of dependability punctuated by the occasional burst or maybe even patch of brilliance. If he were given regular time leading the line, he might just develop into an Adebayor or a Kanu, someone who could offer more-frequent bursts and patches of brilliance, but we don’t really have the time to wait on Nketiah’s development.
Here’s where Gabriel Jesus’s patchy injury record comes into play. For as effervescent as the Brazilian was against Sevilla, he suffered a hamstring injury that will knock him out of contention for the next month or so. This will thrust Nketiah front and center, literally and figuratively, as we host West Ham, visit St. James’s Park, host Burnley and then Sevilla in the Champions League before the international break. That’s four matches in which Nketiah will almost certainly lead the line.
Even with Jesus through the middle, our attack doesn’t funnel through the middle as it does at Newcastle or Man City. We don’t depend on a traditional striker or centre-forward as a great deal of our attack flows through Saka and Martinelli on the wings. With that in mind, it would be a mistake to measure Nketiah’s contributions by the metrics we might use for a traditional #9. Despite his explosion on Saturday against the Blades, he may never become a prolific scorer, but that might reflect more on our attacking intentions than on his own talents or abilities.
What would it take for our fanbase to accept Nketiah as good enough? Assuming Jesus is here to stay, would Nketiah get enough time on the pitch to score 10 goals? If he were to start, at least occasionally, would 15 goals be enough for him to earn our acceptance and our support? A performance like this against Sheffield United might raise expectations beyond those levels, but it might also elevate Nketiah’s performance along the way.
He’s one of our own, Nketiah is, so we might as well hope nothing less than the best for him.