News that Folarin Balogun is close to signing a new long-term contract with Arsenal likely signals the end of Eddie Nketiah’s fledgling career at the Emirates Stadium.
After intense speculation regarding Balogun’s future, it appears Mikel Arteta has finally persuaded the 19-year-old that staying in north London will afford him the first team opportunities he desires – a relief for many Arsenal supporters who probably thought another young star – remember Donyell Malen – was walking out of the door for free.
However, there is one person at the club for whom this news will come as a blow and that’s England Under 21 striker, and record goalscorer at that level, Nketiah.
At the start of the campaign, Nketiah was afforded plenty of opportunities by Arteta and appeared to be a player the coaching staff had a lot of faith in. But in a rather dramatic decline, the 21-year-old hasn’t been named in a Premier League squad since early February – a damning indication of where he’s now at.
It begs the question, what has Nketiah done wrong? To be frank, nothing.
If anything, it took Arteta far too long to realise that Nketiah is nowhere near good enough to spearhead Arsenal‘s attack. He’s only averaged a goal every five games for the club, and despite possessing an impressive energy and ability to press, he offers very little in the build-up phase of attacks.
Of his five goals this season, only one has come in the Premier League. Three were scored in the Europa League group stage against weak opposition (Dundalk & Rapid Vienna) and the other came in a Carabao Cup win at Leicester.
While many fans were calling for Balogun to be given more opportunities in the first-team, Arteta continued to persist with Nketiah, despite his measly scoring return. However, with his contract due to expire in the summer of 2022, no sign of a renewal and Balogun about to sign a four-year extension, it appears there’s been a necessary adjustment to the pecking order.
It’s the perfect time for Nketiah to sit back, take stock of where he’s at and instruct his agent to look for pastures new.
Whether he’s cut out for Premier League football remains to be seen at this stage, but it’s now unquestionable that Arteta has realised that he’s not the successor to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Alexandre Lacazette – Arsenal’s two leading lights who have seen their own futures called into question.
Balogun, on the other hand, is far from the finished article, but the New York-born striker’s two goals in the Europa League showed the kind of instincts he has in front of goal. Watching him gives you that warm fuzzy feeling inside, and it’s obvious there’s untapped potential in there. The only way Arsenal will find out if he’s good enough is to play him more often.
Nketiah has been afforded that luxury, and while he’s not a dreadful player by any means, he’s not Arsenal calibre. With one year remaining on his deal, the Gunners won’t be able to command a substantial fee – but should at least be able to recoup a decent chunk of money should a lower end Premier League side come calling.