"A lot of people think it took me 15 seconds to score for Arsenal, but I've been working on it my whole life."
Many footballers make an immediate impact for their club. Few have done it as quickly as Eddie Nketiah did for Arsenal.
In October last year, Arsenal trailed Championship side Norwich City in a fourth round League Cup tie at home. As time ticked down to its final five minutes, they had little hope. But they did have a corner.
Before it was taken, a baby-faced striker by the name of Edward Nketiah, who looks even younger than his tender 18 years, stepped onto the pitch and pointed to the sky, searching for God. The Arsenal supporters were hoping for a miracle too, but the teenager coming onto the pitch was more confident than those sat in the stands. He jogged on, bypassing senior striker Olivier Giroud, and made a beeline for the six-yard box. His first touch at the Emirates Stadium—just 15 seconds after his introduction—was a prodded finish that nestled into the back of the net. 1-1.
The whistle for full-time followed shortly after, but extra-time was needed to separate the sides and, in that, Nketiah planted a header in from another corner. 2-1. Arsenal headed into round five.
"I brought him on because we needed to score goals and he can score goals," Arsene Wenger said post-match. That is an understatement.
Following a hat-trick against Everton in a 4-0 win in a Premier League 2 match, Nketiah has now scored 57 goals at youth level since the start of the 2015-16 season. Nine of those have come this season in just 11 games, including two hat-tricks scored against David Unsworth's side and Manchester United.
He has also been lethal for his country at the relevant age groups thus far. Nketiah picked up two caps for England's under-18 group, both last year. Needless to say, he scored on his debut, against Saudi Arabia, then bagged another trio versus Qatar. Under-19 caps followed in 2017 and he has seven goals in six caps to his name at that level, too.
Born in Lewisham to Ghanaian parents, Nketiah honed his skills in 'the cage' - something he feels toughened him up as a striker.
"In the early days I played football in the streets - in the park there was a little cage in my area. It was really hard playing in a football cage, there’s a lot of pride there and everyone wants to show how good they are and what they can do and there’s no security around, so you’ve got to fend for yourself.
“If you get tackled you’ve just got to get back up, there’s no fouling. There’s a lot of trash talk going on in the cage and you’ve just got to have a thick skin and get through it, and just show how good you are."
Nketiah needed to have thick skin when he was released by another London giant, Chelsea, at under-14 level. It was tough, but his disappointment quickly subsided to excitement: Arsenal picked him up almost immediately, a week after.
"Being let go was a really hard situation for me and my family to take, but luckily I had good people around me that could help me and supported me and I never doubted my ability."
After scoring 50 goals in his first two seasons for the Gunners, he was handed his first-team debut. Previous to the Norwich game, he got his chance on the European stage, albeit as an 89th-minute sub in Arsenal's 4-2 win at BATE Borisov in the Europa League.
A minute was not enough time for the 18-year-old to make an impact in Belarus, but just under a month and one game later, he had managed to get his goal. It took him just 15 seconds.
Anyone would be pleased with that, they would have been even more pleased with two goals. Nketiah was, but not satisfied. "I wouldn’t change a thing from that night, maybe to get a hat-trick, but there’s plenty of time for that," Nketiah reflected.
There is plenty of time for Eddie to truly make his mark, both for Arsenal and his country. If those 15 seconds are anything to go by, Nketiah won't need many chances to do so.