EXCLUSIVE Arsenal legend Freddie Ljungberg: Starlet striker Eddie Nketiah is ‘ready’ to play against Borisov
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Arsenal legend and U23 boss Freddie Ljungberg believes hotshot starlet Eddie Nketiah is ready to play against BATE Borisov in the crucial second leg on Thursday.
With Unai Emery’s side losing 1-0 in Belarus in the first leg of the round of 32 after Stanislav Dragun nodded home Igor Stasevich’s free-kick for the winner moments before the interval, goals are required in North London – with Ljungberg convinced Nketiah is the man for the job.
Bate held on for the victory, their first over an English side at home in European competition as the Belarusian champions are aiming to complete the job at the Emirates this week.
To make matters worse Alexandre Lacazette was sent off for elbowing Aleksandar Filipovic five minutes from time after his frustration at having a goal disallowed after the break boiled over.
However the former Lyon striker’s expulsion creates a vacancy at centre-forward – with Ljungberg insisting Nketiah can fill the Frenchman’s boots.
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Speaking exclusively to the Islington Gazette after his side’s emphatic 4-0 victory over Spurs U23 in Premier League the popular Swede - who many are tipping for a bigger management role in the club after his excellent work with the young guns - was full of praise for the England U21 star.
He said: “If he gets the call, he’s ready to play without question.
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“It’s totally up to the manager [but] I’ve always thought we have players [at U23 level] who are ready to do well but it’s up to the first team.
“All I can do is advise and try to get the players as ready as possible.”
On the scoresheet for Arsenal U23s against their Spurs counterparts were Joe Willock who added his 10th and 11th goals of the season, Charlie Gilmour as well as Nketiah.
The 19-year-old Lewisham-born striker has made five appearances for the first team this season and was an unused substitute in Belarus before playing against Tottenham 24 hours later in the Premier League 2 match at Stevenage.
Ljungberg added: “It’s important for Eddie to play games. As a striker, you can’t just train because you want to feel that feeling to get yourself in the right place at the right time to score.
“That’s why I think it was important for Eddie to play [for the U23s] so he’s ready when he gets a chance in the first-team.
“He needs games, as a striker he always needs to be playing.”
Nketiah made his debut during a Europa League match with Borisov in September 2017 and scored twice against Norwich City in the EFL Cup on his second outing.