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.