Eddie Nketiah’s lack of game time detrimental to his future

I am concerned about the future of Eddie Nketiah at Arsenal.

The Englishman is clearly a talented youth player. His record at youth level speaks for itself.

Over the last 2 and a bit seasons, he has been a consistent goal scorer at youth level.

33 games played over various different competitions at youth level for Arsenal; 28 goals. And he has carried that form over into an England shirt whom he averages a goal a game for.

At the age of 19, he has clearly out grown youth level football – even the Premier League 2 which is for U23 players. He is superior than anything there is.

Last season in the PL2 he scored 12 goals in 13 games. He was just 18 years old (playing against men 5 years older). This year he is already 4 in 4.

The huge issue Arsenal face is how does he get senior minutes?

Arsene Wenger was always of the view that 18-21 were the most important years in terms of development. It is at this age you want to be playing senior football to ensure that you progress from talented youth team player to senior professional.

A glance over at Chelsea highlights the struggle players face, and how it can ruin young talents.

Both Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Nathaniel Chalobah were amongst the best talents of their generation, but they did not play enough between 18 and 21 to progress.

Chalobah is now 23 years old. He has played just 21 Premier League games. Prior to joining Crystal Palace on loan, Loftus-Cheek had just 24 Premier League appearances to his name. Compare this to Dele Alli who had played over 100 Premier League games prior to his 22nd birthday and you will see why the Spurs player has kicked on and the two Chelsea lads have stagnated.

Nketiah faces the same problem that Loftus-Cheek and Chalobah did.

He is too good for youth team football, but has superior players ahead of him to get a chance at senior level. In May next year he will turn 20 with just a handful of Premier League games to his name.

I see people calling for Nketiah to start games, or at the least to get game time, but for that he needs to be better than those ahead of him.

Arsenal play with one up top. Alexandre Lacazette is currently our first choice striker. Were he to be injured, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would slot in. And backing them up is Danny Welbeck.

So for Nketiah to make a Premier League start, he needs 3 strikers to be out injured. He needs at least one to be injured just to make the bench (and even that is not guaranteed).

He is clearly not going to get into the Premier League match day squad ahead of Lacazette and Aubameyang, and you are an idiot if you think he should.

That leaves Welbeck.

Danny Welbeck is one of England’s best strikers. There is a reason he went to the World Cup. And with Jamie Vardy now retired, you would probably say he is 3rd choice England striker behind Harry Kane and Daniel Sturridge (if the Liverpool striker continues his recovery from injury).

Welbeck has hit 4 goals in 9 starts this season, and is able to play the duel role of winger and striker. He has also become key when coming on to protect leads.

He works hard up top closing down defenders, has pace in to get behind on the break, and is big and strong to hold up the ball. He is the ideal man to bring on with 10 minutes to go when you are hanging on to the lead.

You would not want to give these minutes to Nketiah. There is a big difference between giving a kid a go when you are 5-0 up and cruising, and needing to bring on an experienced player to help see out a tight game.

There is only space for one of them on the bench. As games tend to be tighter more often than “easy wins” Welbeck is therefore more important.

Nketiah could get time in cup competitions. But with Welbeck’s Premier League playing time limited, you need to keep the senior man sharp. He has to play in the League Cup and Europa League.

Suddenly the doors are shutting on Nketiah’s first team opportunities.

This is where you need to think with your head, not your heart.

We all want that player to go from youth team level to senior superstar. One of our own. It leads us to believe that young players are better than what they are. It is why so many fans were willing to give Jack Wilshere chance after chance after injury after chance.

But realistically, Nketiah is our 4th best striker. It does not matter what you think, he is not better than Danny Welbeck.

So where does that leave him?

He is probably looking on in jealousy Emile Smith Rowe with a hint of jealousy.

Smith Rowe has played 3 senior games this season, and looks to continue that run as winter draws in. I imagine he will start every single League Cup and Europa League game this side of Christmas.

His advantage is that he does not have as much competition for places.

Nketiah is 4th in line for 1 position (striker). Smith Rowe is 7th in line for a place behind the striker (Aubameyang, Welbeck, Ozil, Mkihataryan, Iwobi & Ramsey). As he is capable of playing in all 3 positions behind the main man, he has plenty of opportunity for game time.

As 4 of the 6 ahead of Smith Rowe will be playing in the first team and therefore not considered for the League Cup / Europa League sides, a situation is created where the youngster will always make the team sheet.

Nketiah is being hamstrung by the increased competition.

Arsenal may well look at a loan deal for Nketiah in January. They will see Reiss Nelson getting game time in the Bundesliga and know how important it is for him to be playing.

But where could Nketiah go?

You would not really want him dropping down to the Championship, and would a lower league Premier League side take a risk on a youngster when facing a relegation battle? There will not be too many options for him to get regular, top flight game time.

There is light at the end of the tunnel for Nketiah though.

With Welbeck’s contract set to expire at the end of the season, a decision will have to be made.

If the club gives Welbeck a new contract, they might as well sell Nketiah on. My take is that Welbeck will leave, and Nketiah will be 3rd choice striker.

But at 20-years old, this will not solve Nketiah’s game time problem. He will still be sitting on the bench behind two world class finishers.

You then get into a Benik Afobe / Chuba Akpom situation where the talented young strikers age is creeping up, and he is being caught up by players younger.

Afobe’s career at Arsenal was ended when Akpom – 2 years his junior – started to break through. Akpom started get to get taken on pre-season tours and Afove was let go at 22.

The same also happened to Akpom. He was finally sold on this summer, also at the age of 22, as Arsenal looked to develop Nketiah.

The next generation below Nketiah is itching to progress.

Tyreece John-Jules (17) looks a talent. Trae Coyle (also 17) scored 7 goals in 13 games for the U18s last season. You then have 16-year old Sam Greenwood – signed from Sunderland last summer. He scored and got two assists as England U17s beat Brazil and has been in very good form recently.

Whilst these players at not yet ready to overtake Nketiah, you can see history repeating itself.

Role forward to the summer of 2020. 18 months time. Nketiah is still struggling for game time as Arsenal’s 3rd choice striker. He is 21. These lads are 18 or 19, they are banging in goals at youth team level.

They will do to Nketiah what he did to Akpom, and what Akpom did to Afobe.

Without regular first team football, Nketiah will stagnate. But with so much competition ahead of him, it is not obvious where that game time will come from.

And eventually Arsenal will have to decide whether to continue investing in his future, or starting giving chances to the next generation.



Do Arsenal need to replace Aaron Ramsey?

Aaron Ramsey is heading out of Arsenal (although the door is not complete closed). There will be a lot of speculation in coming weeks as to who will replace the Welshman at Arsenal. Miguel Almiron one name frequently mentioned recently.

However, do Arsenal actually need to replace him?

The theory behind Arsenal being happy to let Ramsey go is that they do not see him as a first XI player in an Unai Emery team.

Emery has tried, and failed, to fit Ramsey and Mesut Ozil into the same team. With the more talented German playing wide. This has lessened Ozil’s influence on the team.

To get the best out of Ozil, you want him to be free to glide across the pitch. You always want him close to the ball. He can do not this on the right hand side of midfield.

In terms of number 10, Ozil is better than Ramsey. For all intents and purposes, Ramsey is Ozil’s back up.

Ramsey does not have the discipline to play in a midfield 2, he has shown us this during the last 5 years or so. Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira are starting to forge a well balanced partnership.

So Ramsey’s place within the current squad is to provide cover. Cover for Ozil and to a lesser extent, cover to Xhaka and Torreira.

When you accept that Ramsey is cover, you then need to question if we actually need to replace him.

In the middle of the park, Matteo Guendouzi has performed brilliantly this season. He is a key reason why we will not have to strengthen further in the middle of the park over the next few seasons.

Backing up Xhaka and Torreira are Guendouzi, Mohamed Elneny and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. That is more than sufficient options in the middle of the park. 5 quality players all offering something different. For the first time in a decade we are not screaming out for a central midfielder.

Further up the pitch, when you take Ramsey out of the picture, back up for Mesut Ozil also looks healthy.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a class act, and more than capable stepping in for Ozil for the 30-40% of games he missed injured and sick. At 29-years old, he is a senior pro. You know what he can do and he is more than useful.

Even with Ramsey in the squad, some would make a case that in terms of creativity, Mkhitaryan is the better back up for Ozil.

You then have Alex Iwobi, and even younger than him, Emile Smith Rowe.

Iwobi has been one of the most improved players under Emery, and Smith Rowe one of the most exciting young talents in England.

I would rather see Iwobi or Smith Rowe get game time, then Arsenal take a risk on someone like Almiron.

When you actually lay out the front 6 into a formation, you can see where money needs to be invested

Over the next two transfer windows, we need to focus on bringing in natural wingers.

Aubameyang is doing an average job out there, and Danny Welbeck and Iwobi are sufficient back up, but not regular starters. Add in Welbeck’s contract situation and it is the wide positions we need the investment.

For Ramsey’s reported £250,000 a week salary, we could almost split that equally on a left winger and right winger. £125,000 a week each in salary. In terms of yearly budget, it would then only need to be transfer fees we would need to find.

Two £50million wingers on 5 year deals would cost the club a combined £20million a year in amortised transfer fees, that is more than feasible within the clubs current budget.

The likes of Anthony Martial, Leon Bailey, Hirving Lozano, Kingsley Coman and Emil Forsberg spring to mind. We have also been recently linked with youngsters Kai Havertz and Ismaïla Sarr.

What is for certain, losing Ramsey is not a big deal.


How have Arsenal’s new boys settled in?

With us in the middle of the most boring time in football – a pointless international break filled with glorified friendlies, it is perhaps a chance to reflect on the start of the season, and see how the new boys have bedded in.

Bernd Leno

To many peoples frustration, Petr Cech start began the season as first choice keeper.

Unai Emery’s philosophy is that new players have to force their way in, to prove that they are better than the incumbent first team players. This led to Cech starting the season as number 1.

Leno’s opening came when Cech limped off injured against Watford in the league. Prior to that he had only played in the Europa League and League Cup – where he conceded goals but did not have much to do.

Against Watford he looked a little shaky, coming off the bench. However he made some smart stops and distribution was excellent.

Fulham was a vastly improved performance, with some sharp saves. He could have done little with their goal.

It will take a while for him to get used to the physical side of the Premier League – with the bumping and barging at corners. His shot stopping and distribution are certainly up to standard.

With Cech set to miss the next 3 or 4 games, Leno will have plenty of time to establish himself as first choice.

Stephan Lichtsteiner

The experienced Swiss right back has not had much of a chance this season.

Beyond a substitute appearance at left back versus Manchester City, his 3 starts have been limited to the Europa League and League Cup.

His influence on the pitch may well be happening at the training ground, however.

Lichtsteiner has bought some leadership to the playing squad, and you have to feel that he has bought his winners mentality to the training ground.

We have also seen improvements in Hector Bellerin as the season has gone on. The presence of Lichtsteiner must surely be helping to push the Spaniards performances to the next level.

It would not overly surprise me if Lichtsteiner’s one-year deal was extended by a further 12 months.


Greek centre back Sokratis (I can not be bothered to Google his surname) has split opinion.

Some have labelled him clumsy, slow and uncultured, whilst others have praised him for being aggressive, and focusing on defending and clearing the ball.

I fall into the later camp.

We focus too much on ball playing centre backs. “Rolls Royce defenders” like Rio Ferdinand. Players like the now retired Englishman who looked classy but could also defend are few and fair between.

Sokratis is a defender. He defends. That is what he is paid for.

What he creates is a rock at the back that others can play around. A reliable defender that will let Arsenal go out and get a ball playing partner, knowing they have a solid option next to him.

He is more Vidic than Ferdinand, and is exactly what Arsenal have needed for a decade.

Lucas Torreira

Uruguayan central midfielder Lucas Torreira has been a revolution since he broke into the team. He is exactly the player we have been missing for some years.

Like Sokratis, he understands his role within a balanced XI. He is there to defend, to shield the back 4, to provide them cover. His influence on the entire team is obvious to all.

Torreira not only defends, however. He can also play. Comfortable with the ball at his feet, he has given the side another passing option alongside Xhaka.

The sign of a top player is they make those around them look better, Torreira has done this with Xhaka. It is a partnership that we can look forward to developing as the years role on.

It is incredible to think that Torreira is just 22-years old. He will deveop into one of the best central midfields in the world.

Whilst Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool went big on Fred, Jorginho, Fabinho and Kieta, Arsenal secured Torreira for just £22m – we clearly got the best player.

Onwards and upwards for the lad!

Mattéo Guendouzi

The greatest compliment you can give Matteo Guendouzi is that people are now wondering why we did not cash in on Aaron Ramsey in the summer.

Football is easy in hindsight, and no one could have guessed when we signed the 19-year old Sideshow Bob impersonator from the French Division 2 for just £7million that he would be pushing senior team mates down the pecking order.

The fear for the club over the summer with Ramsey is that we only had 2 senior midfielders – Xhaka and Elneny. Torreira was a new signing and Guendouzi was coming in to be on the fringes of the first team squad. He was pencilled in for the Europa League and League Cup.

Due to players returning from the World Cup, Guendouzi got some game time. And he has proved the old age correct. If you are good enough, you are old enough.

People already actually forget that he is just 19. He is younger than Mason Mount, who was called up for the England squad after some impressive displays in the Championship.

He has not been perfect this season. He is a little bit slow on the ball when passing, and doesn’t easily make space for himself to receive the ball off the defenders. But he is 19-years old, and will improve.

Guendouzi has moved ahead of Elneny in the pecking order and is first choice back up for Xhaka and Torreira. His performances are going to save Arsenal a lot of money when it comes to Ramsey leaving.

The Frenchman will have a bad patch. All young players do. But with the squad depth around him, Emery will be able to take him out when he is performing poorly.

This lad has a bright future.

In summary, the first full transfer window for Sven Mislintat has been a success. He has added some experienced leaders to the squad, and signed some very talented young players.

He seems to have bought pro-active planning to Arsenal’s transfers for the first time in years.