Eddie Nketiah may have scored a hat-trick as Arsenal reached the Carabao Cup semi-finals but it was another Gunners prospect getting the home crowd purring.
Fans inside the Emirates were chanting Charlie Patino’s name when he was brought on as a substitute for his first-team debut – and they were even louder after he netted in added time in the 5-1 victory over Sunderland.
The 18-year-old, who was born two months into Arsenal’s famous Invincibles season of 2003-04, only entered the field in the 80th minute, before turning Nicolas Pepe’s cross into the corner to cap a good night for Mikel Arteta.
“A beautiful moment. He is a kid that is coming through our system, a lovely kid. He is training with us almost every week. It was a dream,” said Arteta.
“As a debut to come here, to score in front of our fans, a really special moment.”
Such was Patino’s potential from a young age that Arsenal paid Luton Town £10,000 to sign him when he was just 11 years old in 2015.
He has regularly played above his age group and earlier this season scored a superb solo goal for the Gunners’ Under-23 side against Manchester United, weaving through the defence before beating goalkeeper Dean Henderson.
The talented England Under-19 midfielder’s first senior goal came with his first shot in professional football – and the reaction of Arsenal’s fans at the Emirates suggests the hype is building.
“I see that! I saw it around the club,” added Arteta.
“They heard about him and know what he can become – and now we have to cook him slowly. Today was a good start.
“He still has a lot of competition in front of him. He is really young. And he needs to go step by step. Today he was lucky, he got the opportunity and he took it really well.”
Can Arteta convince Nketiah to stay?
Now 22, Nketiah is looking to move his career on from being a prospect to regular starter, but has been limited to three Premier League substitute appearances this season, despite netting five times in the club’s Carabao Cup run.
The forward’s contract runs out at the end of the season and he has reportedly rejected a new deal.
“I’m just eager to play football,” said Nketiah. “That’s my main ambition. As long as I play for Arsenal I’ll give my all.”
Arteta says he want Nketiah to stay at the club.
“I tell you every day that we want to keep Eddie,” he said.
“We see how he trains, that’s what he does every day, he works so hard and puts the ball in the net every session. I am really delighted with him.
“Every time we have needed him he has always responded.
“We are trying [to persuade him to stay]. It’s not about anything else but minutes. He wants game time, he wants to be on that field and that is the only reason to say ‘can I do it here?’ That’s the question. We all want him to stay.”