Eddie Nketiah insists he never felt that his chance to represent England had passed him, by even after Arsenal team-mates Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe got the jump on him on the international stage.
The 24-year-old, England’s all-time record goalscorer at Under-21 level, received his first senior call-up for the upcoming games against Ukraine and Scotland but is now ready to make his “own story” with Gareth Southgate’s side.
Nketiah made his Arsenal debut six years ago and last turned out for the Under-21s in 2021.
He has scored 34 goals in 136 games for the Gunners, starting with a memorable home debut off the bench against Norwich – scoring a brace to secure victory in an EFL Cup tie.
Despite bursting onto the scene, Nketiah’s options were limited to the lesser cup competitions and a disappointing loan spell at Leeds in the Sky Bet Championship was seen as another setback.
All the while, Saka and Smith Rowe were emerging as the next precocious academy talent off the Hale End production line – the former now a firm favourite of England boss Gareth Southgate.
Asked if he was concerned he may have missed his own international opportunity, Nketiah replied: “I’m still young.
“Everyone’s journey is different. In this day and age everyone needs to focus on their own story and their own journey, not look at anyone else’s. Our career paths have been totally different. We’ve had different opportunities at different times.
“I’ve always been someone who’s trusted in God, trust in myself, believe in the process step by step. It might not always happen exactly when you want it but if you keep putting in the work and doing the right things it will come.
“I am playing for a great club and a big club at Arsenal. These tough games will be a different and new experience but it is about doing as well as I can, showing my quality this week, and hopefully getting an opportunity to go out there and help the team.
“I think I am a much better player now than I was two or three years ago. It is really nice and I am coming in at a good time.
“I feel confident and I feel ready to continue to improve – that is the thing, I’m still young and humble enough to know I am not the finished article.
“Coming away with these players and being able to show my quality and learn from them is really good for me and (to) continue to take those steps in my career.”
Nketiah could have opted to switch allegiances, with Ghana – the birthplace of his parents – putting feelers out to attract him to play for the Black Stars.
But, once the England call came, the former Chelsea youngster knew he had made the right decision.
He added: “I think obviously both sides were always an option.
“I think naturally coming through the academy at England, you have the aspiration to play here and once the call-up was there and the offer was on the table it was really hard to turn down, something which I felt was a natural progression for myself at this stage.
“I felt now was a good time to make that step so obviously I’m really happy to be here and proud to be here. Hopefully I can go on and help the team this week and get some caps.”