Mikel Arteta was full of praise for the attitudes of Calum Chambers and Eddie Nketiah after they bagged the goals that sealed Arsenal’s place in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals at the expense of Leeds United.
Both goals came in the second half with Chambers converting a header – his first touch after replacing Ben White on 56 minutes – and Nketiah scuffing home from close range after he’d taken advantage of poor defending by the visitors.
“I am so happy in particular for Calum, he totally deserves it,” said Arteta in his post-game press conference.
“It was a great moment as it helped us win the game, and it’s someone who deserves the best for who he is as a person and how he behaves as a professional.”
Chambers made a beeline for the dugout after his goal was awarded following a slight delay while the referee’s assistant confirmed the ball had crossed the line. The defender was immediately engulfed by team-mates and backroom staff alike.
“You see the reaction of his team-mates, they spend time with him every single day,” said Arteta.
“I think it was genuine emotion for him because it’s been tough for him – and they like him as a person, and they know it was an important moment for him.”
The boss also offered an explanation as to why Chambers celebrated as he did.
“There were I think three different coaches and a player that told him he was going to score, and probably it was in his ear so it was a way to say thank you!”
For Nketiah, a second goal of the season, was a just reward for a busy performance leading the line. While clearcut chances were few and far between, his willingness to pressure the Leeds defence ultimately paid dividends.
“I have no doubts about what he can offer,” said Arteta. “Whatever you throw at him, he wants more, and demands more of himself, and he’s another one that I am delighted to see the performance and for him to score the goal and help the team, because he totally deserves it. But there’s a lot of players who play in that position, and with a personal situation, but I try to leave that aside and try to [reward him] because he deserves it.”
That ‘personal situation’ is a reference to Nketiah’s contract situation. The 22-year-old came very close to leaving the club in the summer after rejecting a contract extension and will become a free agent in July. He could even sign a pre-contract agreement with a foreign club from January.
Arteta confirmed there is no update on contract negotiations but remains hopeful the Academy graduate might stay at the club.
“We had a situation in the summer that we tried to resolve and we couldn’t either way. The contract situation is more and more common in football, from where we are coming from with Covid and a lot of issues we have to resolve. I have full belief that he is going to be a top player and hopefully at Arsenal.
“I am happy to have him in the team. He is our player and I consider him and regard him really highly, and from my side I want him to stay.”
While Nketiah sits behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alex Lacazette in the pecking order, waiting in the wings behind him is Folarin Balogun. The 20-year-old did commit his future to the Gunners recently but has found game time hard to come by.
Asked about the youngster and the potential for him to make a loan move in January, Arteta preached patience.
“We will see what happens,” he said. “Again, with Flo we have a really clear project. The steps that he’s making, they are the right steps.
“Don’t forget he is really young, he hasn’t played almost any professional football, and you need to go through every phase – and don’t try to jump phases when you are not ready to do so.
“Again I’m really happy with him, he’s making the right progress and in December we will see where we are and what’s the best for him as well.”
It’s worth bearing in mind that Arsenal will lose both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe to the African Cup of Nations in January so our attacking options will be stretched to the limit. That could well play a factor in our decision-making.