When Arsenal face Brighton on Saturday, Alexandre Lacazette’s hold-up play would be hugely impactful. Can Eddie Nketiah now add this feather to his bow?
Alexandre Lacazette is seemingly no longer a key part of Mikel Arteta’s plans. He slipped out of the starting XI before lockdown, Eddie Nketiah starting the final three Premier League matches before play was suspended, and has not earned his spot back with his work in training since then. After he sat on the bench against Manchester City, Arsenal’s starting striker role, it seems, is now Nketiah’s.
Nketiah performed admirably against City. With almost no service and very little help, he worked tirelessly as he hurried and harried the City centre-backs, ran the channels hard, and held up the ball as Arsenal desperately looked to release pressure.
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Arteta was effusive in his praise of the striker, too. Speaking in his pre-match press conference on Thursday evening, he said:
“I want him to keep doing what he’s doing. The way he played last night against those players, in those difficult conditions, for me is extraordinary at his age. He has an immense personality to play, confidence, he’s powerful and is developing in every area I think. I have a lot of faith in him.”
But against Brighton on Saturday, Nketiah will have to show a different side to his game, one that Lacazette is the master of: linking play in tight spaces. It is a facet of centre-forward play that has not always been his best, but if he wants to develop into the Gunners’ long-term starter, he will have to prove he is capable.
Unlike against City, Arsenal will have a greater share of the ball. They should control proceedings a little more, enjoy more possession, and play higher up the pitch. Instead of aimlessly running after panicked clearances, then, Nketiah will be fed with accurate passes, mostly on the ground. He must then shield the ball, hold off defenders, before bringing others into play.
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Lacazette has faults, undoubtedly, but in this instance, he is excellent. He uses his body superbly, his touch is reliable and skilful, and he then has the range of passing to feed teammates into dangerous positions. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has flourished in an inverted left-wing role because of Lacazette’s presence as the centre-forward.
Nketiah is not nearly as polished as his senior counterpart and he is certainly not renowned for his close control and skill in tight spaces. Nevertheless, unlike against City, it is these types of matches that he will play most frequently for the team. He must learn to play as a focal point, with his back to goal.
Arteta certainly believes in his ability, and he has shown plenty enough already that he can be a consistent goalscorer at the Premier League. But can Nketiah now round out his skill set and become a more complete centre-forward. Saturday’s match against Brighton will provide a major clue.