Ed Dove, especially for ESPNDecember 28, 2022, 9:45 PM ET
- Ed Dove is a writer and scout with a deep and abiding passion for African sports, politics and literature. Instagram: @EddyDove22, Facebook: @EddyDoveAfrica
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Eddie Nketiahscored a fine goal whichEnglish Premier Leaguereturned after the World Cup break to show just thatgabriel jesusThe damage doesn't have to derailArsenal's title bid whileMohammed Salahpicked up where he left offLiverpoolDeliveredAston Villa.
There was a tremor in north London as Jesus fell down uncomfortably, pinching his right knee insideBrazils 1-0 WC defeat throughCameroon.
The summer recruiter ofManchester Byhas been one of the main reasons why Mikel Arteta's side have gone on to mount such a convincing title challenge, with 10 goals and assists combined in his first 14 league games for the Gunners to fuel their unlikely championship hopes.
Yet he is now out indefinitely following surgery, denying Arsenal their most consistent source of goals as the game drags on relentlessly.
A broken heart for a player regularly means another chance in football, and Nketiah - who signed a new contract with Arsenal in the summer - now has a big chance to prove he can be the club's leading man.
The 23-year-old made no secret of his frustrations with the club last season and played second fiddlePierre-Emerick AubameyangAndAlexandre Lacazetteas Arteta only gave him rare and brief chances to prove himself.
Nketiah seemed ready for the exit door - a free transfer toCrystal Palacewas brought up - before finally committing his future to the club, signing a five-year contract.
Despite this, and probably the reassurances about his role at Arsenal, he was a supporting role at the Emirates Stadium during an impressive first few months of the season.FIFA World Cuppause.
Nketiah scored goals inUefa Europa Leagueand inCarabao kop, but he was largely a peripheral figure as Arsenal roared to the top of the Premier League table.
The Boxing Day visit ofWest Ham Unitedwas a huge opportunity for him to prove his class and he seized instantly by scoring the hosts' third goal after the Hammers had taken the lead in the first half.
Of course, a goal doesn't prove that Nketiah can replace Jesus, but this was the finish from a player whose confidence didn't seem shaken by his substitute role as he picked up a pass fromMartin Odegaard, GeroldThilo Kehrerravishing and ends emphatically beyondLukasz Fabianski.
Arteta has worked with Nketiah behind the scenes - his technical ability, his moves, his finishing - and this goal encapsulated some of the improvements he has made under the Spanish coach.
"It was a great goal, but overall I think his performance was incredible," Arteta told Arsenal's official website. "The way he understood the pressure, his intensity, the way he counter-attacked certain spaces, the composure he showed...
Nketiah has scored 11 goals in his last 11 home games for Arsenal -- from just 16 shots on target; now he must prove he can carry the burden of being the club's leading man, and their lofty goalscoring hopes, as they try to continue their assault on the title.
"Obviously Gabby [Jesus] will be sorely missed, but you can tell I'm so happy for Eddie."Bukayo Sakacontinued Amazon Prime.
"I feel like we all believed in him, that's all he needs, we've just got to keep supporting him. He's achieved his goal and that's going to give him a lot of confidence, so we've just got to keep encouraging him.”
-Ollie:Frontline Arsenal deliver Boxing Day win over West Ham
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Nketiah, who spurned Ghana's advances to join the Black Stars ahead of the World Cup, was swarmed by his teammates in a raucous celebration after his goal.
“It was a lot of fun,” Nketiah said of his first league goal of the season, “but I think I enjoyed the party more, just to see how happy my teammates were for me.
"They've seen how hard I work and their response has been fantastic. It shows the true unity of the team when everyone celebrates like this."
Unlike Nketiah, Mohamed Salah has not found any minutes or goals in recent months, which have been hard to come by in the Premier League.
Salah was criticized early in the campaign as he still appeared to be in his post-Africa Cup of Nations, but from mid-September he began to sharpen up in front of goal again.
He had a hand in 13 goals in 13 games in all competitions ahead of the World Cup break and, as one of the most high-profile stars to sit out, must have been the tournament champion when domestic action returned.
After scoring in last week's Carabao Cup defeat to Manchester City, he was the star of the Reds as they dispatched Aston Villa on Monday.
Salah opened the scoring in the fifth minute with a sharp close-range finish after excellent interplay between the twoTrent Alexander-ArnoldIAndy Robertson, and later set upVirgil van Dykefrom a corner for the Merseysiders' second 32 minutes later.
The Egyptian's opening goal took him level on Liverpool's goalscoring charts with Kenny Dalglish - still revered as 'The King' at Anfield, and arguably the Reds' greatest ever player - with 172 goals for the club. It has not gone unnoticed that it took the Scot 515 games to register that many goals, while Salah has achieved the feat in just 277 games since signing fromAS Roma.
"It's crazy," Klopp said of Salah's record goalscoring haul. "If you're mentioned in the same line or sentence as Sir Kenny Dalglish, then you've done something right."
Salah's assist was his 50th in the Premier League - Steven Gerrard, another Merseyside darling, is the only other Liverpool player to surpass 50 goals and 50 assists for the club in the Premier League - while no other Reds player has surpassed a player to score more than his 55 goals away from Anfield in league history.
He may not have reached the heights he reached at the end of 2021, but we are still witnessing truly remarkable numbers from Salah.
I denEnglish Championship,Anas Zarourymade an immediate impression as he returned to promotion-chasing actionBurnley.
He was a late arrival inMoroccocamp for their remarkable World Cup run - he was only included in the Atlas Lions squad as a last-minute replacement for an injuredAmin Harith- and then only action as a substitute in the third place playoffs modCroatia.
But the 22-year-old needed just 50 seconds to get back between the goals after returning to the club's action.
He was named in Vincent Kompany's starting XI just 10 days after the end of Morocco's World Cup adventure and within a minute of kick-off set the Clarets on their way to a 3-0 win overHannibal Mejbri'Sthe city of Birminghamwith the fastest goal in the Championship so far this season.
"I don't think normal mortals will understand the challenge of doing a bus tour for millions of people in your country and then showing up the next day and still doing your job as if you didn't do your life yet ," Kompany said of his young winger.
"As long as he keeps doing that, the sky's the limit. It's a great way to come back."
In Saudi Arabia, there was a showdown between two of Africa's best strikers of the past decadeVincent Abubakar'SAl Nasser- strongly associated withCristiano Ronaldosince his departureManchester United-- square withAl HilalIOdion Ighalo.
Both players made their mark in the game, with the Nigerian opening the scoring for Al Hilal after 10 minutes before Aboubakar set up Talisca to equalize in the 56th minute.
The two title contenders share the points in a 2-2 draw, leaving Al Nassr on top with 23 points, while Al Hilal are fourth with 21.