In Focus: Eddie ready to benefit from Auba absence
Watch out Premier League defenders, Eddie Nketiah could be set to explode.
With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang stripped of the Arsenal captaincy earlier this week and — according to his manager Mikel Arteta — in need of "time to heal", there is an attacking vacancy at the Emirates Stadium that requires filling.
So, ahead of the Gunners’ trip to Leeds, we explore whether 22-year-old Nketiah is ready to step up to the plate and finally make a big impact in North London.
Crossing the capital
Nketiah started out at Chelsea as a youngster but the Blues released the attacker in 2015, apparently due to his diminutive stature.
That did not deter Arsenal from signing him up though, with the frontman going from strength to strength in the club’s Hale End academy.
Arsene Wenger gave Nketiah his first-team bow as an 18-year-old in September 2017 — and he scored his first goals for the Gunners only a month later on his second appearance.
The England Under-21s international made his Premier League bow in March 2018 but would have to wait until February 2020 for his first league start, shortly after returning from a loan spell with today’s opponents Leeds.
Tipped by Arteta
Nketiah is out of contract at the Emirates this summer — but Arteta remains keen to keep hold of him.
Speaking last week, he said: "Eddie knows how much I rate him, how much I like him and how much I want him to stay at the club.
"He thinks he’s capable to contribute much more, and that’s why I like him. I have a strong feeling with him that he can really help the team."
That praise from his manager should certainly boost the Lewisham-born youngster's confidence if he is afforded more game time in the weeks ahead.
However, Nketiah has only played 38 Premier League minutes this term, spread across three substitute appearances — the latest of those coming in Arsenal’s 2-0 midweek win over West Ham.
Alexandre Lacazette started at centre-forward for the Gunners on Wednesday evening and played almost the full 90 minutes.
But with rotation vital over the busy festive period, Nketiah is certainly in contention to come into the starting XI at Elland Road.
And the 22-year-old has already scored against Leeds this season, notching his side’s second in a 2-0 Carabao Cup fourth-round victory back in October.
Naturally, at this relatively early stage of Nketiah’s career, there is not a huge amount of data to assess— but the early signs are promising.
The forward has scored his five Premier League goals so far at a rate of one every 233 minutes. Since his top-flight debut in March 2018, the only current Arsenal players who have a better such ratio are Lacazette and Aubameyang.
Some of those goals have been crucial ones too — an equaliser as the Gunners beat Everton 3-2 in February 2020, an 85th-minute winner against West Ham and a 97th-minute equaliser against Fulham last season.
Is Eddie ready?
But is Nketiah ready to take over from Aubameyang in the long-term? Truth be told, it is too soon to say.
One thing that is clear however is that young players — whether academy products like Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe or signings such as Gabriel and Takehiro Tomiyasu — have thrived under Arteta's leadership.
The heights Nketiah might be capable of reaching remain to be seen, but it would be no great surprise if he was to take his game to the next level in the coming months.
First, he needs opportunities to shine.