Eddie Nketiah’s lost season at Arsenal means only one thing for the England youngster

This was supposed to be the big breakthrough season for Eddie Nketiah.

Having broken into Mikel Arteta‘s first team after returning from a loan spell at Leeds and notching four goals in nine starts, he was expected to kick on and maybe even permanently dislodge Alexandre Lacazette as the permanent starting centre forward at the Emirates.

It got off to a good start with a match winning goal in the second league fixture of the season against West Ham. At one point his form in the League Cup and Europa League saw him become Arsenal’s top scorer in all competitions.

After that though it has been more or less a downward spiral for the 21-year-old who hasn’t featured for the first team since January the 30th – a one minute cameo against Manchester United – and hasn’t made a Premier League squad for the Gunners since.

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Following a tricky couple of months in which he had been on the end of horrible abuse from his own fans Nketiah admitted that breaking away to go and play for the England Under-21s in their Euros group games would be a welcome distraction.

“It’s been a difficult for last month or so,” he said. “I haven’t played as much as I would have liked. I have been working hard and being dedicated which adds to the frustration but I have a great opportunity.

“I have a big tournament ahead of me. In life there are always opportunities in front of you.”

And yet the opening outing against Switzerland proved to be another blow to the young forward’s already dented confidence.

Eddie Nketiah struggle aerially for the England under-21s against Switzerland

Aidy Boothroyd’s tactics bizarrely saw Dwight McNeil tasked with whipping in crosses normally meant for the head of Chris Wood into Nketiah who despite being the Young Lions record goal scorer could not manage a single shot on target as the team he was captain of limped to an underwhelming 1-0 defeat.

This is just another case of the 21-year-old being the unfortunate victim of some questionable managerial decisions.

His rotten run of luck began at Leeds where despite scoring in four of his first seven matches Marcelo Bielsa favoured the goal shy Patrick Bamford.

Then as it became clear this season that he was not likely to get much game time at Arsenal this season the January window seemed to offer the perfect chance to go out on loan and secure some much needed first team exposure at Premier League level like his fellow Hale Enders Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Joe Willock had done.

When asked if he would be leaving in the winter window though, Mikel Arteta flatly responded “no.”

With Nketiah’s situation the way it is, the question surely now has to be why?

Perhaps Arteta was anticipating that his side would stay in the FA Cup for longer than the fourth round when they were knocked out by Southampton, or hopeful that a good run in the Premier League would reduce the importance of the Europa League knockout matches, giving the 21-year-old a chance to play.

Even still though with Gabriel Martinelli, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Folarin Balogun all at the club, that decision has quickly been shown not to be a wise one.

Eddie Nketiah has seen playing opportunities at Arsenal decrease significantly since Christmas.
Eddie Nketiah has seen playing opportunities at Arsenal decrease significantly since Christmas.

When questioned about Nketiah’s predicament Arteta held his hands up and admitted that he was to blame for the striker’s lack of current game time.

“This is one of the hazards to leave someone like Eddie out of the squad, but at the moment everybody has been fit and we have so many options up front,” he said earlier this month.

“But it hurts as well because of how Eddie behaves and trains every day and because he’s a player from our academy, but he will have his chance.

“He needs to be patient and he’s showing no signs of lacking attitude or anything like that, it’s the complete opposite.

“He’s a joy to work with and he deserves minutes and if he doesn’t get it, it’s just my fault.”

Of course that can only be true to an extent.

When Nketiah has been given opportunities in the Premier League this season he has not exactly grabbed them with both hands in the way fellow youngsters Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have.

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In his last Premier League start against Everton for example, the 21-year-old snatched at both the opportunities that fell his way as the composure that had seen him score nine goals in 10 appearances at Premier League 2 level suddenly deserted him on the biggest stage.

But as the remainder of the season looks set to pass him by Nketiah must now make a decision on where his future lies.

With just one year remaining on his contract at Arsenal and plenty of potential suitors in the Premier League, the evidence would seem to suggest that it is away from North London.

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