Nketiah causes Arteta plenty of pleasure but even more pain
The Spanaird has been unusually forthright in expressing his desire to convince the 22-year-old to continue his career at the Emirates, but so far most haven’t really seen what all the fuss was about.
Yes he was a fantastic goalscorer at youth level for both club and country, but at senior level he has generally been found somewhat wanting.
Well, this season things seem to be changing.
In just three Carabo Cup starts Nketiah has five goals in this season’s competition, and Tuesday’s night’s hattrick against Sunderland – in which each goal seemed to get incrementally better with time – was the best performance of the lot.
Many will say Nketiah already had his chance to impress in the first team right at the start of Arteta’s reign when the Hale Ender was recalled from a loan spell at Leeds and thrust straight into the Premier League side ahead of Alexandre Lacazette.
But just consider how much the way Arsenal have changed since then.
In the early part of Arteta’s reign the Gunners were a side who played much of the game in their own half before transitioning into the final third at a snail’s pace as they sought to break down opposition defences with a careful and considered build up.
With almost entirely different players and much more confidence Arsenal recently – bar a hiccup against Everton – have been a team who start the attack far higher up the pitch and spend more time near the opposition goal as a result.
Nketiah is a ‘fox in the box’ type striker, but it’s difficult to be that if you’re team aren’t actually anywhere near the box. Now Arteta has got his team operating in the attacking end of the field on a more regular basis we are seeing what the 22-year-old can really do.
Perhaps this is why the Spaniard is so keen to keep the young centre forward, a desire which he reiterated in his post-match press conference on Tuesday.
“I tell you every day that we want to keep Eddie,” he said. “We see how he trains, that’s what he does every day, he works so hard and puts the ball in the net every session.
“I am really delighted with him. Every time we have needed him he has always responded.”
It seems though that the only way Arteta will get his wish is by offering Nketiah regular first team minutes.
The 22-year-old is approaching a stage in his career where he can’t really hang around anymore and needs consistent game time if he is ever to mature at senior level.
With Lacazette currently in fine it’s difficult to see that coming any time soon, but bare in mind that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – remember him? – is set to head off to the AFCON at the end of this month, which will bump Nketiah up a place in the pecking order.
The Frenchman can’t play every game across a packed festive and January schedule, so we could well see another Arsenal academy product being given a start in the first team.
If this does happen, it will be fascinating to see how the England under-21 international gets on in the Premier League in what should be ideal conditions to thrive, to truly judge why Arteta is so hell bent on keeping him.
Perfect night for Patino
Nketiah was probably the star of the evening, but on a night where fans around the Emirates attempted to recreate a clear Christmas night with phone torches throughout the stadium, it was youngster Charlie Patino who shone brightest.
Before even coming on the Arsenal fans were singing his name to the tune of the White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’, a chant that you feel we could be hearing a lot of in the future.
The 18-year-old didn’t actually come in on his preferred deeper lying midfield position, but instead as a number 10. It was this license to get forward that enabled him to stride into the box and stab home Nicolas Pepe‘s cutback for a heartwarming moment on a freezing cold night.
You can tell how happy everyone is for Patino around the club after his debut went as well as it did.
After the game every member of the coaching staff waited to greet him with a hug as he walked back down the tunnel, while Thomas Partey, Bukayo Saka, Nketiah, Pepe and a host of his fellow Hale Enders took to Instagram to congratulate him.
Mikel Arteta was keen to get in on the act reflecting on an evening that couldn’t really have gone much better for the youngster.
“It was a beautiful moment,” the Spaniard said.
“He’s a kid who has come through our system. He’s training with us almost every week and it was a dream. To score at the Emirates in front of our fans – a really special moment.”
The challenge now is getting his development right.
Arteta will know from having managed Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Flo Balogun‘s progressions within the first team set up that fans will now be calling for Patino to be involved pretty much every time an opportunity comes up.
The hype around someone who has only played 10 minutes in an Arsenal shirt is huge, and the Gunners will have their work cut out keeping him ground as he looks to learn and improve.
“That’s what we have to try and avoid,” said Arteta when asked about the potential of over-hyping the youngster.
“He still has a lot of competition in front of him, he’s really young and he still needs to go step by step.
“Today he was lucky, he got the opportunity and he took it really well.”
This will be key if Arsenal are ever to see the best from what is undoubtedly an exceptional talent.
For now though the future is a long time away, so it’s worth revelling in what was the perfect night for a kid who is Arsenal through and through.
Cedric shows Arsenal their January transfer priority
As the January transfer window approaches we begin to make lists of where we think Arsenal are most in need of improvement.
High on those lists would probably be a centre forward capable of taking over the mantle from Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the long term, or a central midfielder to provide depth and competition for Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka.
However, in the current squad, with the players available, you could argue they can get by with what they’ve got until the end of the season.
As discussed Eddie Nketiah is in good form, while Gabriel Martinelli can play centre forward if need be, with Flo Balogun set to go on loan next month, while in central midfield Albert Sambi Lokonga and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, when well again will mean the Gunners are well stocked.
One position where you would argue they don’t have a replica of what’s on offer in the first team though is at right back.
Before getting into this though, it should be said that this is not meant to be an overwhelming criticism of Cedric.
The Portuguese international is an experienced player, and by all accounts a phenomenal trainer, who actually pulled out a sublime assist for Nicolas Pepe’s goal with a great cut back on the night.
However, when it comes to what he offers stylistically compared to Takehiro Tomiyasu, the pair are almost totally different.
Time and again in the first half Cedric could be seen struggling to get back into his position as Arsenal lacked the defensive solidity that the Japanese international provides on the right hand side.
The 30-year-old also looked confused as to where he was supposed to be standing in the build up and early on he was yelled at by Mikel Arteta for not standing in the usual infield position that Tomiyasu takes up when Bernd Leno was looking to play from the back.
Then when in possession he was just a little slower and not quite as secure as Arsenal’s deadline day signing from Bologna. There was an instance where he had the option to play it forward quickly to Pepe and set the Gunners off in transition but neglected to do so and instead took a touch before playing the safer ball to Mohamed Elneny.
It’s not really Cedric’s fault that he’s not able to do this. It just doesn’t come natural to him. He has made a career out of being a very good attacking full back who overlaps the winger and gets to the by-line, rather than the inverted full back Arteta seems to want on the right side of his defence.
So stark is the contrast between the Portuguese international and Tomiyasu that many Arsenal fans are holding their breath over the Japanese international’s fitness for Sunday’s Boxing Day clash with Norwich.
With January approaching the Gunners could be tempted to address this issue.
If you look at what they did on the left side, in addressing the issue of the lack of a stylistically similar back up to Kieran Tierney by signing Nuno Tavares, there’s little doubt the squad could do with something similar on the right.
Tyler Adams has been linked and could be an option, but the likelihood is that player will have to leave first. Hector Bellerin is still an Arsenal player, while Calum Chambers and Cedric would probably need to go before another right back could be justified.
It would be a huge task, but if Edu can get it done in January, the Arsenal squad would look even stronger.
Best and worst of Pepe shows why he’s not a starter for Arteta
For most people Nicolas Pepe’s display against Sunderland was a positive one that reminded us what he’s capable of doing.
The Black Cats’ left back Denver Hume will be having nightmares about the two times he was nutmegged by the Ivorian, and with two assists and a goal to his name it’s fair to say it was a good evening’s work from an attack standpoint.
However, it seemed on occasions that Mikel Arteta saw it a little differently.
The Spaniard could be seen in the first half yelling at Pepe to get in the right position to press a Sunderland goal kick.
He was not the only one frustrated with the Ivorian.
As Ben White was forced to come across to put out a potentially dangerous situation for a corner with the score at 2-1, the England international turned to his teammate and yelled “F***ing hell how is getting it there. Nico get the ball then play it.”
The usual traits of lapses of defensive concentration and overplaying in possession where on full display in the midst of the final third end product on Tuesday night showing almost certainly why Pepe is not currently a first team starter.
After the game Arteta didn’t seem particularly sympathetic to the Ivorian’s recent plight, stating that it was up to him to fulfil his current role in the squad even if it is not that of a regular first team player.
Do you think the Premier League should pause to deal with the latest surge in Covid cases? Have your say
“It’s hard for everybody who doesn’t play but what they have to do is when they have the minutes show that they can do it, and they are ready when the team needs you,” the Spaniard said.
The level of opposition can be taken into account, but we know the attacking excellence Pepe is capable of and that is what makes the flaws in his game so much more frustrating.
Unless the 26-year-old ever finds a way to fix that, it’s difficult to ever see him being a first team starter on a regular basis, while Arteta is in charge at the Emirates.