The World Cup has now finished and the attentions switch back to club football. Arsenal were rocked during the break, as striker Gabriel Jesus picked up a serious injury during his time with Brazil. The summer signing will be missing for a number of weeks and it could extend as far as March. This has given a huge opportunity to Eddie Nketiah. The academy graduate extended his contract last summer when he could have left on a free transfer.
He could have been forgiven for leaving the Emirates Stadium. At the age of 23, he is ready to play more regularly in the Premier League. Nketiah showed his ability during the second half of last season, as he became an important player for Mikel Arteta. During this spell, he scored five Premier League goals in 825 minutes, averaging one every 165 minutes. This is better than one every other game, a very respectable return in the top flight.
During this period, he convinced Arteta that he could be trusted in the first team. Although Jesus was signed to lead the line, it was still planned that Nketiah would be an important player for the Gunners. Due to the team’s excellent form, Arteta has been reluctant to make many changes to the team. This has restricted chances given to Nketiah, but that will change over the coming weeks and months. If Arsenal are going to maintain their title challenge, they need their deputy centre forward to pick up where he left off in 2021/22.
Over the last 12 months, Nketiah has a statistical profile that will encourage supporters. He averages 0.49 non-penalty expected goals (npxG) and 3.57 shots per ninety minutes. This places him in the 82nd and 91st percentiles among forwards for these two stats.
In simple terms, Nketiah is very effective in the final third. He has a high shot volume and many of these are high quality chances. It isn’t a surprise that he is scoring frequently in the top flight. In addition to getting lots of shots, he is an effective finisher when a chance comes his way.
There are some differences between him and Jesus. Arteta will need to make some small adjustments to ensure the team continue to win matches. The biggest issue for Arsenal will be the drop in creativity.
Jesus is averaging 0.21 expected assisted goals (xAG) per ninety minutes this season. He is among the best at linking play with the attacking midfielders behind him. It isn’t surprising that Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard have all been regular goal threats this season. A lot of their success has been related to the signing of Jesus.
Nketiah won’t match this. He doesn’t have the same qualities and instincts, with an average of 0.12 xAG per ninety minutes. This places him in the 39th percentile among forwards. Unlike Jesus, Nketiah does his best work in the opposition penalty area and the focus will be on those attacking midfielders to feed him, not a more mutual relationship like the one with Jesus.
The next few weeks will be crucial for Arsenal. If the Gunners are to maintain a title challenge, they need to start quickly and win in some difficult matches.
If Nketiah comes in and it hurts the attacking set-up, we may look back at Jesus’ injury as a turning point. There is no doubting the threat posed by Nketiah, but the drop-off in link-up play is a concern.