Having been used fleetingly throughout the 2019/20 campaign, 21-year-old Eddie Nketiah gradually began earning the trust of his new (and improved) manager to the point where he had usurped Alexandre Lacazette in the starting lineup.
Mikel Arteta has, in his short reign in charge, offered glimpses into his Arsenal vision, and youngsters such as Nketiah appear to be front and centre of it. Tactical tweaks – plenty of them – have been the primary alteration since he succeeded Unai Emery as permanent boss, but there have been other intricacies in his stamp of authority that have presented fans with a silhouette of what is to come.
Notably, the decision to field Nketiah over the vastly more experienced Lacazette had fans purring. For some, they were purrs of discontent, given the Frenchman’s long-standing trust of the supporters, while others reveled in the idea of an academy graduate leading the line for the club he’s spent his entire career with.
Whatever your take, it was a bold choice. Nketiah grabbed his first Premier League goal on the final day of the season against Burnley in Emery’s first season at the helm, but even then the consensus was that Nketiah was some way of competing for a starting berth. Yet, with Arteta manning the guns, he’s been thrust into the action sooner than anticipated. Lacazette went through a barren spell in front of goal, Nketiah worked his socks off in training, thus the opportunity arose.
In terms of style, the Spaniard’s blueprint for attractive football stems from a measured, intense press that relies on winning back possession mere seconds after it’s relinquished. It can’t, however, be disputed that Lacazette does this very well. He’s an aggressive, battering ram of a centre forward. Nketiah, on the other hand, is just as tenacious, but expends his energy in different areas.
Not one to drop into the number ten role like his teammate, he harasses opposing back lines from yards further up the pitch. Forcing the errors, or at least increasing the chance of their occurrence, allows the rest of the side to engage in their own press. 29-year-old Lacazette can overturn possession, but this is more likely to occur in deeper areas where the counter attack is less potent, due to the lack of a striker then occupying the central defenders.
In a nutshell, they both boast differing qualities. One striker is better than the other for certain matches, and vice versa.
Given that amid countless rumours of incoming players, as well as potential departures across the board, no striker has been linked with Arsenal this summer, with Nketiah looking firmly in Arteta’s plans.
Would that be backup to Lacazette, or from the off, though?
You’d think it’s the latter. Why so? Well, key to the Gunners’ transfer dealings has been the yearning for a creative midfielder. Perhaps even more than just the one. If – when, we hope – that player(s) should come in, a nimble, pacy striker who keeps the opposition defence guessing would be the ideal fit.
No need for someone such as Lacazette to drop deep and bridge the lines. Instead, a more mobile, tricky customer as Nketiah will tick the boxes.
His development is, however, still very much in its infancy. A club known for promoting youth, the feeling among fans has always been to see as many young prospects flourish as possible… when the time is right. Is he ready, though? Sure, he didn’t score a hatful at the tail end of last campaign, but neither did Lacazette. In an altered, more varied style of play, goals could be more forthcoming for both strikers.
Against MK Dons on Tuesday he demonstrated all the aforementioned categories, topped off with a fine goal to boot. Fed inside the line by Bukayo Saka‘s neat cut-back, a smart, sweeping finish into the opposing corner acted as a welcome reminder that his match sharpness hasn’t fizzled away over the past few weeks. What’s more, Saka has acquired a taste for passes like those, all he needs is someone to try them out. Nketiah will be a more than grateful guinea pig to his teammate’s inventive concoctions.
We head into a 2020/21 Premier League season in which Nketiah has the world at his feet. Go on, hashtag it: #EddieisReady.