Eddie Nketiah: Playing for a Transfer or an Arsenal Future?
By Rob Worthington (Deputy Editor)
To start this piece, I shall refer to a tweet from Grace Robertson (@GraceOnFootball) from a couple of weeks ago.
Eddie Nketiah certainly falls into the category of a player who ‘has something to prove.’ The young English forward comes into the 21/22 season off the back of a hugely disappointing second half of the 20/21 campaign on a personal level. So far, the youngster has started just the one competitive game for Arsenal in 2021.
Nketiah featured in just 5 Arsenal games during the second half of the season, with 4 of those appearances involving late introductions from the bench. Not ideal for a 22-year-old forward looking to make his mark on the senior game after a hugely successful youth career.
As a result, many saw the Summer transfer window as a time for a natural parting of ways between Nketiah and his boyhood club. While his ability to grab a goal has never been in doubt, his overall contribution led many to the conclusion that Nketiah just isn’t quite good enough for Arsenal.
Most rational thinkers still hold this belief. Certainly, if a respectable offer were to come in for England’s top scorer at under-21 level, Arsenal would in all likelihood sell Nketiah. Nonetheless, a few fans have had their opinions at least partially swayed by a string of impressive pre-season performances from the Hale End academy product.
Even those who remain steadfast in their belief that Nketiah should be sold will admit that the striker has looked a different player in pre-season to the one we saw last year. Often operating on the left-wing, Nketiah has appeared stronger on the ball, he’s linked play very nicely and his attacking threat seems more consistent - epitomised by his brilliant strike against Watford last week.
The question must be asked, why is Nketiah playing like this? Is he putting himself in the shop window? Or, is he trying to force his way back into Mikel Arteta’s short-to-long-term thinking?
On the surface, the simple answer would of course be that he’s playing for a transfer. As per the ever-reliable Fabrizio Romano, Nketiah was offered a new contract by Arsenal in early June 2021. Further news hasn’t followed on this front, so, Nketiah and his camp most probably declined the offer.
After all, the offer wouldn’t have been giving Nketiah first-team assurances at Arsenal. Early in the transfer window, The Athletic reported Arsenal offered Nketiah the contract with a potential loan move in mind after seeing Joe Willock’s success at Newcastle last season. Protecting Nketiah’s value as an asset would’ve factored into the thinking behind the offer too. No pathway to a starting role at Arsenal for the 22-year-old was guaranteed, however.
This insinuates Nketiah’s mind is made up, and therefore so is Arsenal’s. Within their early transfer window round-up of all things Arsenal, The Athletic insisted that if Nketiah weren’t to sign a new deal, Arsenal would try to offload him permanently this Summer. Nketiah has seemingly rejected the offer of a contract renewal, so both the club and Nketiah are searching for a new home for the young Englishman.
Yet, at the back of both the striker’s and the Arsenal technical team’s minds, there must be a nagging question - could there still be room for Nketiah in north London? While Nketiah might’ve accepted his future lies elsewhere, the hope of succeeding at your boyhood club never dies until it is dead and buried. Meanwhile, the Englishman’s noteworthy pre-season outings must be giving Mikel Arteta something of a selection headache heading into the new season.
The fact of the matter is that in terms of all-round contribution, Nketiah has been Arsenal’s best striker in pre-season. On the basis of the form book, the youngster should start against Brentford in just over a week’s time. For as long as he’s still a registered member of the Arsenal squad, he’s still eligible to fight for a starting place, and of course, Mikel Arteta can still select him to play.
This isn’t to say Nketiah is the answer to Arsenal’s striker problems. With links to the likes of Tammy Abraham and Lautaro Martinez growing stronger, it appears the issue of the starting no. 9 will be addressed in the coming weeks. Nketiah’s name won’t be found within that conversational bracket. Nonetheless, when compared to the other strikers currently on Arsenal’s books, the 22-year-old's pre-season cameos make him difficult to ignore.
Thus, while Arsenal shouldn’t be fooled by the player who has ‘something to prove’, they also shouldn’t prohibit him from fighting for a starting role. To answer the question in the title, Nketiah’s future lies elsewhere - he’s playing for a move. However, while his undeniable poaching ability and strong form continues to remain available to Mikel Arteta, Nketiah can’t be cast aside.