It’s no secret that Arsenal are looking to remake their roster this summer, and Eddie Nketiah may be on the list of outgoing players. The 21-year old striker has been linked with a move to Brighton & Hove Albion by local Brighton journalist Aden-Jay Wood and covered in SussexLive, with Arsenal correspondent Chris Wheatley joining in. The Athletic’s Brighton correspondent Andy Naylor has refuted the reports, but it’s the Silly Season, so your guess is as good as mine as to which reports are accurate. And it’s possible that both are rooted in verified facts.
The move makes sense for both clubs. Brighton are in desperate need of someone to put the ball in the net because the trio of Neal Maupay, Danny Welbeck, and Aaron Connolly all struggled to convert chances. The Seagulls had the second-largest gap between xG (53.8) and actual goals (40) in the Premier League last season per understat.com. They also had the largest difference between points and expected points — nearly 20! Basically, they did everything right except score goals, which I hear is kind of an important thing in football.
Enter Eddie Nketiah: scoring is what he does well. He’s got that fox-in-the-box, right place at the right time ability that could translate into double-digit goals if given the opportunity. The problem is he’s unlikely to get that opportunity at Arsenal. He’s firmly behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette (who may also be on the way out), Folarin Balogun, and perhaps even Gabriel Martinelli on the depth chart at striker.
Nketiah also has not shown that there is more to his game beyond banging in goals from close range. To be fair, he has had limited playing time to show / develop those other facets. But he doesn’t have the “future star” look like Martinelli and Balogun do. And that’s fine! There is plenty of room for players who have a knack for scoring goals in the Premier League (hello Joe Willock).
It’s a bit of a catch-22 for Arsenal. They need to score more goals but to do that they have to sell guys in Nketiah and Willock whose primary skill is scoring goals to be able to buy players to bolster the squad elsewhere, which in turn would help the goal scoring overall.
Whether to keep or sell Nketiah is the latest in a long list of difficult decisions that Arsenal have had to make about the crop of 21-24 year old talents who may not have what it takes to make it at a club with Champions League aspirations. Mikel Arteta has said the club must be “ruthless” this summer. This strikes me as a time to put those words into action.
The last chance Arsenal had to be ruthless they made the wrong decision not selling Ainsley Maitland-Niles to Wolves last summer. As a general rule, I think it’s better to capitalize on value when you can rather than hold out for more money / the off-chance the talent does the unexpected and blossoms. Of course, the usual caveats about price apply.
With Nketiah, I think we’ve got a pretty good idea of what type of player he is and who he is going to be. Even if he improves, he’s not going to become a “darn, we let a star get away”-level player. And whatever level he ends up at, he’s not going to reach it for another few years. Arsenal need to get better now.
I’ve sort of buried the lede here, but one of the options being reported is Nketiah + cash for Yves Bissouma, a player high on Arsenal’s list of transfer targets who would make the Gunners better next season. Seems like a no-brainer for me. Arsenal leverage an abundance of talent at striker to reinforce the center of the midfield, a position where the club lack quality depth, and Brighton get someone to put the ball in the net. Win-win.