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Eddie Nketiah has huge role to play

Eddie Nketiah returned to Arsenal in January and impressed from the moment he arrived. As Mikel Arteta states, he has a huge role to play in the short and long-term future of the team.

When Arsenal sent Eddie Nketiah on a six-month loan to Leeds United, the idea was that he would gain precious first-team playing time, something that he would not receive at the Emirates thanks to a plethora of attacking options already in the squad.

It quickly became clear, however, that he was not going to be handed such an opportunity. Patrick Bamford was the starter and Nketiah did little more than sit on the bench. And so, in the January window, the Gunners recalled him, initially with the intention of resending him out on loan.

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By this point, Mikel Arteta had taken over as the head coach. Where Unai Emery did not feel he could use Nketiah in the Premier League and wanted the 20-year-old to play more regularly at a lower level, Arteta thought otherwise. Nketiah impressed in training. Arteta then confirmed that he would remain with the team for the rest of the season. Slowly but surely, Nketiah worked his way into the starting XI, including displacing Alexandre Lacazette at one stage and scoring three goals in five starts.

The lockdown put an end to his encouraging form and upwards trajectory, but the initial signs of progress and potential were undeniable. Nketiah proved that he is capable, and even after three months of no action, Arteta is confident that he will have a key role to play in the team’s future. Speaking in his pre-match press conference ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Manchester City on Wednesday, Arteta said:

“We treat Eddie as an important part of our squad, we had to make a very important decision not to let him go out on loan again after the spell he had at Leeds. I watched him train and I am convinced that he is the right player for us, to move us to the next level and that he can contribute in a big way to the way we want to play. He has been fantastic so far.”

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Certainly, given his performances thus far, as well as his ability to prove his readiness with every chance he has been given, there is little reason to think that Nketiah cannot affect the team’s prospects, both during the remaining 10 Premier League games and FA Cup campaign, and beyond.

Most impactfully, he is a natural goalscorer. His movement, his clinical finishing, the knack he has for finding space in the penalty area. That he scored a hat-trick in a meaningless behind-closed-doors friendly in his first competitive action in three months is hugely telling. Nketiah’s innate goalscoring ability is unteachable, and it means he will always be valuable, whether as a starter or substitute.

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Quite what role Arteta has in store for Nketiah, both for this season and beyond, remains to be seen. But without doubt, there will be one, and that is much more than what was expected last summer.

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