Arsenal have made their “final” contract offer to Eddie Nketiah, per Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail. Mokbel reports that prevailing sentiment among the clubs hoping to sign Nketiah on a free transfer, including Crystal Palace and West Ham, is that the Hale End product is likely to sign the deal and remain in North London. That’s good news for Mikel Arteta, who has consistently expressed his admiration for the striker and his desire to keep him at the club.
Early in the season, Nketiah found playing time hard to come by because Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette were ahead of him on the depth chart. It wasn’t until Alexandre Lacazette’s second bout with COVID (with Aubameyang long since off to Barcelona), that Nketiah got his shot. He scored five goals in Arsenal’s final seven Premier League matches, which put him ahead of both other strikers’ goal totals for the season at Arsenal and tied him with Gabriel Magalhaes for the 5th most on the roster.
Nketiah is a “divisive” player in terms of people’s opinions of him (and stats, honestly). There are people convinced Arsenal should do everything to keep him at the club and people who have no problem letting him walk. Those that think his stat profile is a portent of greatness to come and those that think he’s a mid-table level goal-poacher who doesn’t have what it takes for a club with Arsenal’s ambitions. For what it’s worth, he’s got impressive numbers and compares favorably, although his stats come from a significantly smaller sample size. That fbref graphic is from 895 minutes played. Most “top” players play over 2500 minutes.
As with all things, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. I’m on record on TSF Twitter saying that I don’t have a strong opinion on whether he should stay or go. I think my opinion has shifted slightly after watching him close out the season, thinking back over his performances, and looking at his advanced stats. I’ve got one foot firmly planted in the “want him to stay” camp, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he walks, either.
I like that he scores goals. He has a nose for the net that I’m not sure you can teach. The vast majority of his goals come from in close to the goal, often from inside 6 yards. That speaks to an awareness and understanding of the right place to be at the right time as well as a willingness to put himself into high traffic, tough areas, as yer ‘da as that may sound. I also like that he’ll chase defenders and keepers down to apply pressure. It created two goals for him this season.
I’m still not sold on his passing, despite him being 93rd percentile among forwards in pass completion. The eye-test and my memory (which could be biased by the normal human aversion to bad outcomes) tell me that he misplaces too many passes a player “should” complete. I also think his decision-making around the edge of the box and on the break could use some work. I distinctly remember several situations where he passed instead of shot and shot instead of passed in that final stretch of 7 matches he played for the Gunners.
I’d also point out (as I did above) that we’re working with a very small sample size for Nketiah. Remember the incredible run-in that Joe Willock had for Newcastle last season? Goals in seven consecutive matches to close out the season. Willock scored two Premier League goals in 29 appearances this year. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but it’s informative. For what it’s worth, I think that Eddie scores a type of goal that is more of a repeatable skill than those scored by Willock, but there is plenty of reason for caution when evaluating players based on short bursts of good form.
Now it’s down to what Eddie Nketiah wants to do. Arsenal have put their final offer on the table in front of him. We’ll know in the next few days to weeks whether he picks up the pen or walks away.