Eddie Nketiah must step up in striker crisis
Nketiah cups his ear in celebration after stabbing in the equaliser against Fulham on Sunday. GettyImages/Ian Kingston.

As Alexandre Lacazette fell to the floor clutching his hamstring during Arsenal's 1-1 draw with Fulham, Mikel Arteta scanned his bench for replacements.

Folarin Balogun, despite travelling with the squad, had not been named amongst the substitutes, meaning that Eddie Nketiah, who has played just 30 minutes of Premier League football since Christmas, was the only option.

And he delivered. Deep into seven minutes of stoppage time, a Bukayo Saka corner reached Dani Ceballos at the far post, whose shot was pushed out by Alphonse Areola directly into the path of Nketiah, who bundled the ball home.

For Arsenal, the point is largely irrelevant, with the club sitting in ninth place in the Premier League and six points outside the top six places. For young Nketiah, however, the celebration said it all. This goal was critical.

A Shortage of Strikers

Lacazette's seeming hamstring strain means that he joins talisman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the sidelines for Arsenal.

It remains unknown when Aubameyang will have recovered from contracting Malaria on international duty, which has seen him miss Arsenal's last three games across all competitions.

With those absentees, Nketiah is likely to be thrust into the role of senior striker. The England Under 21 record goalscorer has registered just two goals and one assist so far this season, but has been largely limited to substitute appearances.

With just three starts and 339 minutes to his name in the Premier League to date, his underwhelming goal tally cannot be read into too much.

One concern for Arteta, however, will be the youngsters one-dimensional aspect, with his goals for the Gunners prior to Sunday's equaliser being scored from an average of just 5.4 yards out.

Already without key players Kieran Tierney and Martin Odegaard, the Arsenal manager may struggle to create a cohesive side bereft of Lacazette's ability to link play too.

It is certainly something that will be playing on the mind of Arteta ahead of Arsenal's Europa League semi final first leg against Villarreal.

 

 

Time to step up

Nketiah's career to date at Arsenal has been a mixed affair. Scoring twice on his domestic debut to turn a League Cup tie against Norwich in Arsenal's favour, his first Premier League goal did not come until almost seven months later, in a 3-1 victory over Burnley on the final day of the 2018/19 season.

A fruitless six months at then championship Leeds United, followed before Arteta recalled the youngster to the Arsenal squad at the beginning of 2021.

Since then, Nketiah has failed to kick on. Arsenal's poor form, the reliance on Aubameyang and the emergence of other youth prospects such as Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have all contributed to the youngsters lack of opportunities, and there was rumour of a January transfer away from the Emirates stadium in the most recent window.

Fighting for his Future

With just over one year left on his current contract in North London, there is the unshakable feeling that this is a pivotal set of games, and an unexpected opportunity, for Nketiah to stake his claim to remain at the club.

Whilst the growing belief among the fans is that he may be moved on in the future, were he to seize his chance with both hands, it would provide something of a headache for Arteta heading into next season.

On the other hand, a string of good performances could certainly increase his value to Arsenal, in turn providing them with an unexpected injection of cash as they seek to continue their rebuild of the squad.

West Ham United were linked with a move for the forward in January, and will remain on the hunt for a striker come the summer. If Nketiah were to finish the season strongly, it would only allow Arsenal to demand more for the England Under-21 captain. Either way, Nketiah stands to gain from being thrust into the spotlight.

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