Eddie Nketiah is sparking a battle between England and Ghana after almost matching Gabriel Jesus' Premier League goal tally in NINE fewer starts... he transformed his body to become the leading man and has shone in front of Gareth Southgate

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When it was announced that Gabriel Jesus would be forced to undergo knee surgery having injured himself at the World Cup, many saw it as the end of Arsenal's title dreams before they had even begun.

Their star summer signing, who had not been prolific but had proven undeniably key to how they played, would be facing up to months on the sideline and Arsenal - so it was said - had nobody that could replace him.

Step forward Eddie Nketiah.  

Eddie Nketiah has become a crucial part of Arsenal in the absence of the injured Gabriel Jesus

Eddie Nketiah has become a crucial part of Arsenal in the absence of the injured Gabriel Jesus

Eddie Nketiah has become a crucial part of Arsenal in the absence of the injured Gabriel Jesus

The injury to the Brazilian handed him an opportunity which he has grabbed with both hands. In nine fewer starts this season, Nketiah has four Premier League goals to Jesus' five. No player has more goals in all competitions for Arsenal this season than the former Chelsea youth player's nine. 

Key to his uptick in form and importance has been a body transformation that has seen him go from a wily, rather raw, centre-forward to a player capable of mixing it with the toughest of defenders. Impressive performances against the often-strong tackling Argentines Cristian Romero and Lisandro Martinez on consecutive weekends is indicative of a player who has developed his body as well as game; capable of taking the ball to feet and running as well as holding it up when Arsenal need such a job doing.

His personal trainer detailed how he developed his body, crediting Nketiah with being one of the 'best athletes' on the books of the firm in terms of 'attitude and commitment'.

The English-Ghanian forward has six goals in six appearances since the restart following the World Cup, maintaining Arsenal's increasingly tight grip on the top of the Premier League while also performing all of the important tasks that Jesus was so lauded for.

The striker scored twice as Arsenal defeated Manchester United 3-2 at the Emirates on Sunday

The striker scored twice as Arsenal defeated Manchester United 3-2 at the Emirates on Sunday

Having gone from a bit-part player to one of their most crucial in the absence of the Brazilian Jesus, attention has now turned to the question surrounding Nketiah's international allegiance. There is now expected to be something of a battle between England and Ghana over Nketiah's allegiance. 

Born and raised in Lewisham, south London, Nketiah has played for every England youth side up to the Under 21s - whom he has scored more goals than anyone else for, with 16 in 17 appearances.

Only Francis Jeffers can match Nketiah's record of scoring two hat-tricks for the U21s, while only Alan Shearer can match his record (six) of games consecutively scored in.

His record with the U21s was not lauded by many as much of an achievement - instead used by many as a stick by which to beat him, accusing the forward of being the perennial bridesmaid. His role at Arsenal over the last few years also contributed to that feeling. 

His impressive form in recent weeks is set to kickstart a war between England and Ghana over his international allegiance

His impressive form in recent weeks is set to kickstart a war between England and Ghana over his international allegiance

Having been influential in Arsenal's finish to the campaign last term, in which he replaced Alexandre Lacazette for the final months of the season, he saw his place in the first team immediately handed to Jesus. 

In April, Nketiah had spoken of his confusion - and perhaps sometimes sadness - at having seen players in his age group, whom he had captained in youth sides, go on and become starters, both for club and country. 

Speculation had become abound that Nketiah might become the latest English-born player to switch their international allegiance.  

Nketiah had told the Beautiful Game Podcast in the same month: 'My parents are both Ghanaian, so of course, it's a possibility. I am open to both - playing for Ghana or England.

Arsenal star Eddie Nketiah used to be a skinny youngster back in 2019

However, he has been hitting the gym hard over the last three years and has bulked up

Eddie Nketiah's personal trainer has revealed how the 23-year-old's incredible body transformation (pictured above) has helped him thrive for Arsenal

The former England youth player has scored more goals for the under-21s than anyone else

The former England youth player has scored more goals for the under-21s than anyone else

'Like you said, I've played for the youth teams so naturally when I was obviously younger, they called me up to go play for them.

'Being from Ghana, you are obviously happy they have qualified for the World Cup. I know players like [Thomas] Partey, I am happy for them as well. It's always good to have that opportunity to potentially do that.'

It all looked to be pointing towards Nketiah deputising for the country of his parents' birth at the World Cup in Qatar in November last year, however the Ghanian FA stopped in their pursuit of the forward in October. 

It was said then that various attempts to convince the Arsenal forward to switch had failed. Ghana had deployed a clear policy of trying to recruit players who could also declare for another nation, including the likes of Inaki Williams and Tariq Lamptey, Spain and England respectively. 

His role with Arsenal and England had led to many viewing him as the perennial bridesmaid

His role with Arsenal and England had led to many viewing him as the perennial bridesmaid

Otto Addo, the country's then-coach, had said in the summer that players wishing to switch should decide to do so now. It appeared a very direct warning to the likes of Nketiah and Callum Hudson-Odoi. Nketiah remained unmoved, once again doing what he had become notable for in his career so far: biding his time.

His career at Arsenal, having been released by Chelsea in 2015, has come to be defined by an innate patience that appears to escape many professional footballers nowadays, and indeed young people. He is now reaping the rewards for that patience.

It is unclear as to why Nketiah was reluctant to accept the Ghanian FA's offer, essentially, of a place in the country's World Cup squad. His record with the England youth teams and perhaps an innate belief in his own abilities and that he is ready to play for the country of his birth means that he has bided his time. Could it also perhaps be that the England hierarchy had spoken to him about opportunities further down the line?

Ghana's attempts to land the Arsenal man for the World Cup appeared to fall on deaf ears

Ghana's attempts to land the Arsenal man for the World Cup appeared to fall on deaf ears 

Otto Addo - the country's then-head coach - had said last year that the likes of Nketiah and Callum Hudson-Odoi needed to declare themselves ready

Otto Addo - the country's then-head coach - had said last year that the likes of Nketiah and Callum Hudson-Odoi needed to declare themselves ready

His form at present would suggest that that is just as well for England, who have toiled in recent years for an able deputy to first choice - and national team captain - Harry Kane. 

Gary Neville, speaking in the aftermath of Arsenal's 3-2 win over Manchester United, which saw Nketiah score twice, said the forward has a 'real opportunity' to secure a place in Gareth Southgate's England squad. 

'Nketiah, you look at him and the dearth of English centre-forwards... I think he's got a real opportunity at the moment,' Neville said on the Gary Neville podcast. '(Dominic) Calvert-Lewin's not quite there at the moment. (Callum) Wilson is good, but is he going to be around another three, four, five years? Harry Kane, we know, is fantastic. (Jamie) Vardy obviously is not here anymore.'

Indeed, Nketiah's own record this season trumps many of his fellow England hopefuls for a place in the squad. He has two fewer goals in the Premier League than Callum Wilson's six, but has started five games to Wilson's 13. 

Other England forwards also pale in comparison. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, plagued by injury, has only managed one goal this season. Danny Ings was deemed expendable by Aston Villa, meaning they were willing to sell him to theoretical Premier League rivals West Ham. 

Out of Tammy Abraham, Jamie Vardy, Ings, Ivan Toney, Patrick Bamford, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and himself, Nketiah's minutes-per-goal ratio is only bettered by the Brentford centre-forward Toney. 

Indeed, only Ings and Toney have a better shot conversion rate. What is also attractive to England, as alluded to by Neville in his comments regarding Wilson, is Nketiah's age. He is only 23, significantly younger than the likes of Wilson and Ings in particular, while Abraham has had chances for England that he has not exactly grabbed with both hands. 

Gareth Southgate (middle row, one in from the left) now has a selection headache over Nketiah

Gareth Southgate (middle row, one in from the left) now has a selection headache over Nketiah

Southgate himself was in attendance at the Emirates to watch Nketiah put in a decisive performance and maintain his hot streak of form. 

Having confirmed he is to remain in the post until after the European Championship in Germany in 2024, it could be that Southgate is eyeing Nketiah up for a place in the squad for the internationals this forthcoming March. 

Remaining tight-lipped over who he will finally declare for, Nketiah given himself a choice. England and Ghana are now made to sweat over which way the coin will fall.  

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