There was a lot to like about Arsenal’s performance against Fulham, not least the impactful introduction of Eddie Nketiah. While the striker didn’t get on the scoresheet, his 30-minute cameo kept the visitors on the back foot as the Gunners, courtesy of goals from Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Magalhaes, came from behind to seal the three points late on.
“You looked in his eyes before he came on and said ‘He’s ready for a fight,’” remarked manager Mikel Arteta afterwards.
Given his performances at the tail-end of last season – subsequently rewarded with a new long-term contract and the number 14 shirt – Nketiah probably feels a little hard done by not to have featured more for Arsenal this season.
Unfortunately for him, the blistering form of Gabriel Jesus has left him with slim pickings; just 29 minutes against Crystal Palace, Leicester and Bournemouth combined.
All the same, he continues to receive high praise from Arteta who changed to a 3-5-2 formation on Saturday to accommodate the striker.
“He is a threat that we see every single day in training,” the Spaniard told his pre-Aston Villa press conference.
“You ask him to play, and immediately the boy is ready. He has no fear. He’s all confidence, he’s all power, he’s all qualities, and the boys really believe in him. So the moment that happens, he wants to get involved in the game.
“It’s true we changed the formation to play in a different way that I believe suits and gets the players in better connection and spaces to interact with each other. He was very useful on Saturday.”
Whether from the start or off the bench again, Nketiah’s fighting spirit will need to be replicated by his teammates when Villa visit the Emirates tomorrow. While Steven Gerrard’s side have only picked up three points so far, the boss expects a physical battle.
“I was watching the Premier League teams and how physical they are. It’s a battle for everyone, and we won’t expect anything different from Villa. They are a top team with a big squad, top quality players and a good manager. We expect a difficult game here.
He added: “We have played each other, they have not changed that much. We need to prepare as well as possible. But they are a really physical team, a lot of presence and very good and dangerous in the box. It will be tough.”