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Exit Interviews: Eddie Nketiah
Will Arsenal’s young striker leave a year after taking Henry’s number?
Exit Interviews is a series where Scott and Adam share their opinions on next steps for select Arsenal players. The series will run through early June.
Eddie Nketiah’s first year after extending his contract was a mixed bag. He surprised some fans by dutifully filling in for the injured Gabriel Jesus after the Word Cup, even bagging a brace in a huge game against Manchester United.
After a handful of games, the attack started to fizzle and Eddie missed chances. Should Arsenal’s number 14 get more time, or is it time to move him on for a different type of attacker?
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Adam: I actually think it’s pretty appropriate that we’re doing Eddie and Fabio back-to-back, because I think there are similarities between the two.
What Eddie did replacing Jesus in January and late December is so hard to quantify. He bagged against West Ham and Brighton, and as mentioned made two excellent plays against Manchester United.
Eddie missed a couple of chances against Spurs, but it didn’t matter. But it did against Everton and Brentford, and he was definitely put through the ringer by fans for those performances.
It’s so difficult for fans to forgive strikers for going cold, and I think a lot of what’s said about Eddie is very much influenced by a couple of poor games, when his performances on balance were positive, particularly for a backup.
I said last summer, when people were calling for Gianluca Scamacca, that if Eddie were named Eduardo Nicotelli and scoring 15 goals for Cagliari, Premier League fans would want him. And honestly, with no slight intended against Flo, I think it’s happened this season again with Balogun.
Pressing from the front, holding up possession, and scoring in important spots. That’s what we saw in about 6 of Eddie’s 9 league starts this season. He finished in the 94th percentile for xG. He’s a clever finisher and I think he can close the gap between his xG and goals, particularly given the small sample.
Do I think Nketiah is the best backup Arsenal could have? No. Do I think he’s such a problem that he needs to be moved immediately? Absolutely not.
In fact, I’d say people generally have expectations for backups that are a little too high. The “two starting-quality” striker narrative takes things a little far. In fact, I’ve had arguments about whether Arsenal could satisfy Osimhen and Jesus together as strikers who both play. To me, it’s not happening without a two-striker system or a significant demotion for one of our wings.
To illustrate: The biggest clubs in the world carry one clear starter at striker. Benzema for Madrid. Lewandowski for Barca. Haaland, Kane, Osimhen, Mbappe, all unchallenged. So I don’t know why Arsenal are expected to break that.
All that aside, there’s another reason why selling Nketiah makes no sense to me: I don’t see money in it. He’s only one season into a five-year contract reportedly giving him £100k per week, a fee many continental sides don’t pay and most Premier League clubs reserve for face-of-the-club types and sparkling new signings who are supposed to be really good. Nketiah would be useful to the likes of Brentford or Everton or Crystal Palace, but not to the extent that guys like Toney or Pickford or Zaha have been.
Now, a club like that could afford Eddie, for sure. But if you will, imagine the investment they’re making like a pie chart. There’s a total amount they could afford (or decide is their maximum). To entice Eddie to move, they’d have to at least match his wages, which come out to about £25m over five years. That makes the wages piece of the pie larger, meaning a smaller proportion of the total investment would end up in Arsenal’s coffers. At that point, to me, it’s not worth moving a player just to free up a spot, particularly not when you’re not making enough money to sign another player.
If after this next season Arsenal do decide to sign a new 9, so be it. The needs list should be shorter by then anyway.
The image above is a real Rorschach test.
Some people will look at that and be encouraged and happy.
Some people will look at it and get mad and frustrated.
I feel a bit of both, but lean more towards the encouraged part of it. One of the hardest things about Eddie Nketiah in general was that there hasn’t been the playing time to really get a good feel for what he is as a player and how good he actually is. This time last year when the club was trying to make a call on if he should get a new contract or not, I feel like I had the same questions.
This was my conclusion from that post:
My previous guess at his true talent level was solid Premier League striker, a guy that could score double-digit goals over a full season and wouldn't be out of place as a starter on a midtable team.
This run of form really confirms that for me as still his most likely level, but maybe raises the question of if he could be THE GUY on a team that wants to be top 4. If I were Arsenal, I am not sold that this run would make me change my plans on needing another elite striker but I think it does show that he should be in the conversation for a rotation spot.
This season he added 1,000 Premier League minutes to the sample size and I think helped me think that his ceiling is lower but also that he’s still a perfectly adequate striker and might even be above average.
For a team that has such a unique request for the striker position, he looks a little like a fish out of water at times, and the Leandro Trossard experiment ended up looking like a significantly better option as the backup to Gabriel Jesus. That being said he still basically helped Arsenal tread water looking like a top-4 level team with him as the striker, it was a drop off from what the team was before but it was enough that the season did not collapse at that time (that came a few months later).
If you were told that Arsenal could have a homegrown backup striker that did the following, very good shot production, elite chance quality, average goal production, average buildup, and decent pressing with a good engine, what would be your thoughts?
I think that sounds pretty good.
Obviously, you would love to have a player like Julián Álvarez as your backup but I think what Arsenal have here is better than an even more expensive guy like Richarlison, or Cody Gakpo, or whoever else is playing at Chelsea.
I keep coming back to this but it feels like with what Arsenal need to do this summer limits their ability or willingness to want to move on some fringe players. I can see a world where a striker comes in and the team imagines Jesus as the backup right winger, but the ability to improve on Jesus is also very hard right now, and good strikers are basically the most expensive players on the market and there are always teams searching for these kinds of players.
Nketiah is also coming into year two of a fairly expensive (especially for European teams) contract where he doesn’t have a ton of surpluses value to a buying team where they will offer Arsenal much of a transfer fee that would move the needle on a replacement.
Verdict: Keep for at least one more season. He is the backup but realistically the third-choice striker.