Thursday 19 September 2019

Young-gun Nketiah makes instant impact to save Arsenal blushes

Arsenal 2 Norwich City 1 (after extra time)

Match-winner Eddie Nketiah. Photo: Getty Images
Match-winner Eddie Nketiah. Photo: Getty Images

Gerry Cox

Eddie Nketiah took just 15 seconds to make a name for himself and spare Arsene Wenger's blushes when the teenager scored with his first touch in domestic football to cancel out Josh Murphy's first-half strike for Norwich, who went so close to an upset against Arsenal.

Nketiah, who had played one Europa League game before last night, went on in the 85th minute to chants of "Who are you?" from Norwich supporters, but silenced them straight away as he put the ball in the net from a corner.

Arsenal's Reiss Nelson fends off Norwich City's. Photo: Reuters
Arsenal's Reiss Nelson fends off Norwich City's. Photo: Reuters

As if that was not dramatic enough, he then popped up to head home the winner in extra-time from another corner.

Giant-killing may be pushing the point, but Championship side Norwich certainly deserved something against Wenger's weakened side.

None of Arsenal's big guns were present, and Norwich took full advantage, taking a deserved 1-0 lead and spurning a number of chances to score more.

Norwich started brightly, perhaps buoyed by the sight of a team-sheet populated by youngsters and also-rans.

Arsenal's Jack Wilshere. Photo: Reuters
Arsenal's Jack Wilshere. Photo: Reuters

Wenger's defence looked particularly makeshift, with Mohamed Elneny flanked by Mathieu Debuchy and Rob Holding in a far-from-solid-looking back three.

Murphy liked what he saw and took every opportunity to run at Debuchy, making his third Arsenal appearance in almost two years.

Murphy found himself in plenty of space following a corner but his control let him down, and he then looked on in frustration as Mario Vrancic selfishly shot wide when he might have put his team-mate through on goal.

But when James Maddison did split Arsenal's defence, far too easily it must be said, with a straightforward through ball in the 34th minute, Murphy did not spurn the invitation and belied his youth with a finish of the utmost composure, drawing goalkeeper Matt Macey before chipping the ball past him delightfully.

Norwich's large travelling support, who had been noisier than Arsenal's fans for most of the evening, erupted in delight as their players celebrated wildly.

In truth, Arsenal would have been ahead but for a superb save in the 20th minute from Angus Gunn, who tipped over a Holding header from five yards following a corner.

Norwich's keeper made a number of decent saves thereafter, but was rarely stretched unduly as Arsenal were reduced to taking long-distance potshots that became increasingly desperate.

Alex Iwobi, Theo Walcott and youngster Ainsley Maitland-Niles were guilty of making the goalkeeper's task too simple.

Norwich then almost doubled their lead before half-time when Murphy set up Nelson Oliveira only to see the striker's curled shot saved by Macey.

Jack Wilshere, having a frustrating night, had been lucky not to face severe punishment for diving in on Tom Trybull in the first half, and 10 minutes into the second half, Elneny was fortunate not to see red.

The Egyptian was outpaced easily by Oliveira, who overtook him to open up a clear run on goal before Elneny's arm pulled him to the ground. Referee Andy Madley took a lenient view and only cautioned Elneny.

Francis Coquelin also escaped with a yellow when he could have seen red for a wild lunge on the excellent Maddison, who had tormented Arsenal.

There was plenty for Arsenal to be frustrated about as a combination of excellent Norwich defending and sloppy attacking play meant Gunn was underemployed for most of the second half.

Alex Iwobi thumped a shot straight into the chest of Christoph Zimmermann, leading to appeals in vain for an Arsenal penalty.

At the opposite end of the pitch, however, chances were raining down on the Arsenal goal. Murphy headed into Macey's arms and then Oliveira shot high over the bar.

Murphy also missed the target, sweeping his shot over after another swift counter-attack, and then Oliveira turned provider to set up Vrancic with a sight of goal - the midfielder turned two defenders expertly but then fluffed his lines by screwing a shot wide of the near post, with the goal at his mercy.

Wenger sent on Chuba Akpom for Maitland-Niles, but Arsenal's frustrations increased. Walcott got into a good position to receive Iwobi's cross but headed tamely on to the roof of the net.

With the final whistle looming, Wenger gambled on Nketiah. The teenager repaid his manager's faith with his first touch, racing on to Coquelin's headed flick from a corner to stab the ball past Gunn from close range. The 18-year-old celebrated his first goal with abandon, not surprisingly.

It set up a tense finale, with Akpom almost winning it in stoppage time with a shot that flew agonisingly wide of the far post.

And so extra time loomed. And it was Nketiah who won it in the sixth minute of extra-time, rising to head Elneny's corner past Gunn from close range. (© The Daily Telegraph, London)

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