Eddie Nketiah Exclusive Interview: Arsenal Striker Seizing His Chance And Eyeing North London Derby Win
Eddie Nketiah is dreaming of continuing his rich vein of goalscoring form when Arsenal face Tottenham in the north London derby, live on Sky Sports on Sunday.
Academy product Nketiah has scored four times in four games for the Premier League leaders since Gabriel Jesus was ruled out with a knee injury and he is eager to add to his tally with a first senior goal against Spurs at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
“It would mean everything,” he said in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports’ Geoff Shreeves ahead of the game. “Me and my family, and most of my friends as well, we’re all Arsenal fans.
“I can remember going to watch the north London derby not too long ago when I was in the academy, so it’s nice to have the opportunity to play in it now.
“Of course, I’m going to give everything for myself, for the fans, for my family, to get those three points. If I can score as well, that would be an amazing feeling.
“It’s Tottenham, we’ve got to win. That’s always the mentality. All the boys are fired up. They know what we need to do, they know how important the game is and how much it means to the fans.
“We are going to give our everything to push and get those three points.”
Mikel Arteta’s side dropped points in the Premier League for the first time since October when they were held to a goalless draw by Newcastle last week, but they head into the derby on the back of an FA Cup win over Oxford United in which Nketiah scored twice.
The 23-year-old, who signed a new long-term contract in the summer after a strong finish to last season, is once again seizing his chance following the knee injury which has sidelined Jesus.
“It’s not the best way to come in,” said Nketiah. “We wish him a speedy recovery and we want him back soon because he’s an important player for us.
“But as a player, I’ve always been that person to keep working, keeping making sure I’m on it, so that when my time does come and I’m put in the limelight, I’m well equipped to do well.
“In life, you never know when your opportunity is going to come. I’ve still got a lot to improve and work on but at the moment I’m happy with my contribution to the team.
“When you play for Arsenal, you’ve got to perform. That pressure is always going to come, whether you’re coming off the bench or starting.
“I’m a striker and I always try to contribute as much as I can. There’s more to the game than goals and I’m aware of that. But if I’m able to score goals along the way, then even better.”
Nketiah was yet to start in the Premier League this season before the Boxing Day win over West Ham but he is relishing a consistent run of games having been drafted in to lead the line.
“It gives you more opportunity and a platform to build upon,” he said. “It gives you a bit of relaxation, that you don’t have to do it all in one game, the opportunity is not just now.
“I try to see it as a platform. It gives me time to improve and to learn and that’s the most important thing.
“When you’re playing week-in, week-out, you’ve got to look at what you didn’t do well, what you can improve on, the little things you can get better at.
“Then, I use my time wisely on the training pitch to focus on those things. It gives you confidence, playing regularly, and a lot of opportunity to improve. I feel like with every game I’m getting better and wiser, and I’m growing in confidence.”
Nketiah has been helped by making a concerted effort to bulk up physically, allowing him to improve his hold-up and link play alongside his natural finishing ability.
“It’s something I’ve really worked on over the last couple of years, mostly in the dark but it’s come to light now,” he added.
“The robustness of the Premier League is really high. You’re always playing against big, physically strong centre-backs, so, for me, I felt like, coming through, the difference between the U23s or the U18s, was that physicality.
“Being able to have the frame to do the things I was doing at youth level – taking the ball, holding the ball, turning – you need that level of competitiveness in terms of strength.
“Adding that has allowed me to show more sides to my game. I can still get bigger. I’m only 23 and that will come naturally as well. But it’s something I’ve consciously worked on and it’s paying dividends at the moment.”
Nketiah rates his goal against West Ham, clinically finished after spinning away from his marker, as his favourite of the season so far, in part because of the celebrations that followed.
“First game back, a lot of talk outside, and it was a well-taken goal, if I may so,” he said.
“The celebrations, I enjoy that so much, because if you look back at the video, the emotion all my team-mates had to celebrate with me, and my family and friends being there to watch it, that was a special moment.”
Nketiah is grateful to Arteta for his role in his development and also to Arsenal legend Thierry Henry, whose No 14 shirt he now wears and who coached him during his time in the club’s academy.
“He’s had a massive input,” he said of the Frenchman.
“Obviously, he was my idol growing up and I had the opportunity to work with him for a full year, which was amazing, one of my best years in the academy.
“It’s great to have him there at the games supporting us. He’s had a big impact. He was my favourite player growing up.”
As for Arsenal’s title chances this season, Nketiah feels they have given themselves a huge opportunity.
“We have to believe, I think that’s the most important thig,” he said. “We all believe that if we keep going at the same rate we’re going, we have a really good chance.
“For me, personally, I always like to take one game at a time. But if we continue in the same form, why not?
“We leave the rest up to God but if we keep pushing and doing everything we can to keep progressing, with the support we have from the fans, then anything is possible.”
Watch Tottenham vs Arsenal live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4pm on Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm