there aren’t many Premier League players facing a more defining end to the season than Eddie Nketiah.
The 22-year-old has established himself as Arsenal’s main striker in recent weeks and suddenly feels like he has his Champions League push and his own future in his hands.
For Arsenal, the equation is simple: Tottenham’s best results in the next four games and they will secure a return to the Champions League for the first time since 2016-17.
For Nketiah, however, the situation is more complicated when it comes to his future. He has two months left on his contract and has rejected several offers made to him during the season.
Manager Mikel Arteta wants the England Under-21 international to stay and has spoken publicly about his desire to keep him since handing him a run of four straight starts.
“If there’s one player I’ve been unfair to, I think it’s him,” Arteta said, after Nketiah scored twice in the 4-2 Chelsea win last month.
“He gave me the right to do something different so if Eddie hasn’t played more it’s my fault and because as a manager I missed something or didn’t didn’t have the guts to play it anymore, and today it showed once again how wrong I was.
Crystal Palace are favorites to sign Nketiah this summer, largely because he did a lot of groundwork last year. The Eagles thought they had a deal on the line but it collapsed late on personal terms and they opted for Odsonne Edouard instead.
They remain interested and Palace manager Patrick Vieira is a fan of Nketiah, but German clubs and others are taking note of his strong end to the season.
Key to discussions with Arsenal over his future has been playing time.
The opportunity to play regular football is set to determine Nketiah’s next move. Whether Arteta can convince him that he will get enough action at Arsenal remains to be seen, and it looks like his recent run in the team is too little, too late to salvage his career at the Emirates Stadium.
Nketiah is expected to lead the line against Leeds on Sunday. But before this series of games, his time at Arsenal failed to take off.
Nketiah enjoyed a run in the squad at the start of 2020 after returning from loan at Leeds and impressing Arteta in training.
He scored in an FA Cup win at Portsmouth and against Everton in the Premier League, but then Covid struck and stopped building momentum.
But as fate would have it, Covid has now given him a chance, after Alexandre Lacazette contracted the virus in early April. He has since left the team.
Nketiah was first given the opportunity to lead the line against Southampton on April 16 and he has held his place ever since, giving Arsenal something different to Lacazette in attack. Basically, he gives them pace behind and the ability to stretch opposing defenders, while the work he has done on his holdup game is plain to see.
Perhaps the next step would be to find a way for Nketiah to play wide, as the need for him to operate as a No9 has no doubt contributed to his lack of minutes.
Arteta and his predecessor Unai Emery tried him on the wing but it didn’t work and that lack of versatility is a problem given Arsenal’s summer transfer plans.
The Gunners are considering signing two forwards, partly because Nketiah is set to leave.
But if he sends Arsenal back to the Champions League, it could be a game-changer.
“It’s obviously about playing, that’s what every player wants to do,” Nketiah said after last Sunday’s win at West Ham. “The most important thing, however, is to get three points and keep winning.”