Eddie Nketiah: Why the criticisms are baseless

Revant Maheshwari
By Revant Maheshwari
9 Min Read

From graduating from Hale End to donning Arsenal’s iconic number 14 shirt, Eddie Nketiah has had a memorable journey with The Gunners. However, the striker has incessantly been a victim of criticism from fans and pundits alike as some believe he is subpar to the level expected at a club whose ambitions include lifting the league title.

How the Journey Started:

Born in London, Nketiah’s introduction to competitive football happened in the city’s Sunday league side Hillyfielders. At the age of 9, he was scouted and recruited by Chelsea’s academy where the player spent 7 years before being released in 2015. The disappointment of being axed from the club didn’t last long as Eddie was shortly approached by the Arsenal Academy.

His first season for the North London club was in 2016-17 at the youth levels of the team’s under-18 and under-23 sides. It didn’t take long for Nketiah to make a name for himself as he smashed in a whopping 24 goals each in his first two seasons for Arsenal’s youth side. His breakthrough for the first team happened in October 2017 against Norwich City in the Carabao Cup when 18-year-old Nketiah came on as a substitute in the 85th minute when the Gunners were trailing 0-1.

Within 15 seconds of coming on, Eddie scored with his first touch in the match before adding another goal to his tally in extra time to guide his side to a 2-1 victory. His first goal made him the first player to score for the club who was born after Arsene Wenger became Arsenal’s manager.

Eddie kept on delivering solid performances as he registered 11 goals and 4 assists in the 2018-19 season followed by a loan move to Championship side Leeds United in 2019-20 where he scored on his debut for the club in the EFL Trophy in August 2019 as well as his league debut the next week. The season was instrumental for Leeds United as they won the Championship title and Nketiah received the first winners medal of his career.

Establishing a Name at Arsenal:

The start of the 2020-21 season was positive for both Nketiah and his club as they beat Liverpool at Wembley to secure The FA Community Shield with the striker making a substitute appearance. His first goal of the season came in September against West Ham where he scored the winning goal for his side after a cameo appearance from the bench.

Both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons saw Nketiah being used as a back-up striker to Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette. Despite the lack of minutes, he proved to be a reliable figure who exhibited patience, a knack for seizing opportunities and still accompolishing personal milestones which included his first hat-trick for Arsenal in December 2021.

The relationship between first-choice striker Aubameyang and the club turned sour in February 2022 which eventually saw the Gabon international depart the club for FC Barcelona. This meant that Nketiah now had a chance to get crucial minutes in the club’s remaining 7 league matches and the player delivered.

Nketiah found the net 5 times in those 7 fixtures which included a brace at Stamford Bridge, another brace against Leeds United and a goal against Everton in the club’s final match of the season. Eddie got a chance to prove his worth and he exceeded all expectations. At the end of the season the club decided to strengten ties with the striker and awarded him a new contract and the famed number 14 shirt in June 2022.

The 2022-23 Season:

Even though the prominent striker duo of Lacazette and Aubameyang were both no longer in the squad, the signing of Gabriel Jesus from Manchester City meant that Nketiah had to settle for the bench again. Despite being the backup striker, he started all of Arsenal’s Europa League group matches as the Gunners cruised their way to the top of their group.

Opportunity once again came knocking for Eddie as first choice striker Jesus picked up a major knee injury during The World Cup. As the Premier League got underway again following the World Cup and The Emirates stadium hosted West Ham, Nketiah was the only striker Mikel Arteta could choose in the absence of his number 9. Nketiah proved he takes his chances as he started and scored in the game against The Hammers.

The most memorable moment for the striker in Arsenal’s title contending season was the game against Manchester United. Nketiah put two goals past David De Gea including the last minute winner to ensure his side wins 3-2 and stays in control of their lead in the table.

By February, Nketiah’s red-hot form saw him have the highest expected non-penalty goals per 90 minutes out of all the players in Europe’s top 5 leagues.

The end of the season saw Eddie Nketiah finish with a respectable 12 goal contributions in 18 starts and 21 substitute appearances. However, if given a closer look it can be observed that in his 1,070 minutes of playing in the 2022-23 Premier league campaign, he averaged 0.69 goals (non-penalty) per match which is higher than any other Arsenal player in the season.

If that statistic wasn’t impressive enough, when comparing goals per 90 minutes played in all competitions last season, Nketiah’s 0.44 goals is ahead of Jesus’s 0.42 goals.

The Conclusion:

A home-grown talent that has time and again been there to deliver results when the big-name first-choice strikers were out injured or unavailable being at the receiving end of criticism is not justified. At just 24 years of age, Nketiah undoubtedly has incredible potential to be an elite striker in the future. His strong mentality can be seen as the player arrived at the club 7 years ago and is still willing to be patient and fight for his spot in the XI.

During Arsenal’s pre-season US tour, Nketiah addressed his situation by saying: “I want to be the best, I want to play and that’s the mentality I have. I realise I might not play every game and that’s the coach’s decision but it’s never going to be my mentality to accept not playing. I am going to always push in training to get opportunities to show why I think I should be playing and to give the manager a headache. Most players should have that mentality. There’s ways to do it. There is no point sitting around and moaning every day.”

Arsenal fans should be excited with the player’s ambitions to compete for his place and given the fact that he featured in all 4 pre-season games in Germany and The USA, he certainly looks like a part of Mikel Arteta’s plan. The 24-year-old will be looking forward to cementing a stronger role for his club for the upcoming season and to giving an answer to his critics.

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