Eddie Nketiah: How Arsenal striker went from out in the cold to undroppable

Patience is a virtue and that is especially apparent when it comes to Eddie Nketiah and his long-awaited rise into the Arsenal first team.

It was only last summer when there were doubts over his future at the Emirates as his contract was set to come to an end. The striker was in fine form towards the end of 2021-22 though and Mikel Arteta convinced him to stick around.

The 23-year-old penned a new deal with the Gunners in the summer and was also handed the famous number 14 shirt in the process. Arteta has had an excellent track record with Arsenal’s youngsters and Nketiah has been no different.

He has been a well-known prospect within the Arsenal fan base for quite some time. His record with Arsenal and England’s youth set-ups for example was exemplary.

Having scored 48 goals in 63 development games for Arsenal’s Under-18s and Under-21s, Nketiah was one of the most natural finishers of his age group.

The youngster had originally come through at Chelsea, but they decided to release him in 2015. Liam Brady was the head of youth development when Arsenal first took Nketiah on and he recalls being impressed straight away.

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Eddie Nketiah of Arsenal after the UEFA Europa League match at the Emirates Stadium, London.

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Brady told the Guardian: “You could tell straight away he is a very clever player but physically he was behind boys of his age. But the other thing that stood out was that he nearly always scored.”

Nketiah was handed his debut by Arsene Wenger in the Europa League against BATE Borisov. His next appearance came against Norwich City in the EFL cup where he scored with his first touch of the match before then bagging a stoppage-time winner.

Wenger was left impressed claiming: “I know that he has character and is not afraid. He smells the combination movements, he can give and go and once a player has that in his game, they have always a chance.

“The guys who can understand that if they give the ball somewhere and they can get it back and know where to get it back, the quality of reception is a very important quality. I would say the quality of the reception, he has that.”

A difficult loan spell

Having made 19 first-team appearances for Arsenal throughout his first two professional seasons, the next stage of Nketiah’s development was out on loan with Leeds United during the 2019-20 season.

Leeds were tipped as one of the promotion favourites after finishing third in the previous season and so it seemed like the perfect place for the youngster to learn, particularly as he would be working with a manager like Marcelo Bielsa.

He scored in his first two appearances for the club, but then he ultimately struggled to dislodge Patrick Bamford from the squad. Of his 17 Championship appearances for Leeds, 15 of them came from the bench.

Due to a lack of game time, the striker was recalled by Arsenal in January. Despite things not clicking for Nketiah at Leeds he still claims that he learnt a lot from the overall experience. He told talkSPORT: “I definitely learned a lot.

“I put myself out of my comfort zone which was a good thing for me, it’s made me a lot stronger mentally and has improved me as a player. I’m grateful for my time there.”

What the stats say

Nketiah returned to Arsenal in January and was thrust back into the first team as he scored two goals in 633 minutes of Premier League football.

He spent the next couple of years playing back up to Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but whenever he was given a chance he would usually deliver.

During the 2020-21 season, the vast majority of his appearances came from the bench but he still managed to average a goal every 189 minutes.

His biggest impact came during the following season though as Aubameyang fell out of favour with Arteta and Lacazette’s goals had dried up. Nketiah was given a regular starting spot towards the end of the season and scored five in the Gunners’ last seven league matches.

The signing of Gabriel Jesus in the summer meant that he had to retake his place on the bench, but he has taken full advantage of the minutes he has played this season.

Nketiah has scored 17 goals in the last 24 starts he has made for the club and his record of a goal every 159 minutes is far superior to that of Jesus who scores every 290 minutes on average.

With Jesus currently on the recovery table, Nketiah has scored five goals in his last five starts and looks undroppable at this point. Arteta was left impressed after his FA Cup brace against Oxford.

The manager explained via Sky Sports: “Obviously he’s been waiting for this moment. He’s been patient when he needed to be but as well he’s been with the right mindset and preparing himself for this moment.

“That’s why I think he looks ready and why he’s performing the way he is. He showed great composure. He’s a great finisher, the timing of his runs and the decision-making in waiting until the last moment when the keeper was committed shows his quality.

“His understanding, his work-rate, I think he’s getting better and better.”

If he manages to maintain the current form he is showcasing it is tough to argue that he shouldn’t be a regular starter. Nketiah has had to be patient in waiting for his chance, but he now looks worthy of the famous number 14 shirt.

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