Eddie Nketiah was considering his Arsenal future last season and had several options on the table.
Crystal Palace have been tracking Nketiah for some time and German side Borussia Monchengladbach have also been sniffing around the 23-year-old. Both wanted to sign him on a free transfer this summer.
By mid-April Nketiah had made just five starts and his hopes at the Emirates looked dim with two-and-a-half months to go. The writing appeared to be on the wall as Nketiah wanted to leave for a first-team opportunity.
But after Alexandre Lacazette lost his place in the team, Nketiah took advantage and scored five goals in the last eight games of the season. Manager Mikel Arteta has assured the player that he has a future at Arsenal and Nketiah has agreed to stay in north London for the long term.
The £45m arrival of Gabriel Jesus from Man City, however, saw him spend more time on the bench. Until Jesus suffered a knee injury during the World Cup against Brazil, Nketiah only played in the Premier League and had to step up as Arsenal’s top scorer.
But since being called up by Arteta to be the leader, Nketiah has made a comeback. His six goals in six games in all competitions since the restart of the season are only equaled by Marcus Rashford and Erling Haaland in the Premier League.
Crucially, two of those goals came against Manchester United on Sunday. His last-gasp run led to Arsenal’s 90th-minute winner to extend their lead at the top of the table to five points with a game in hand.
Nev: Nketiah should be invited to England
Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville on the Gary Neville Podcast:
“He’s been called up to England because of Eddie Nketiah. Gareth Southgate is very good at allowing players to see their U21 career and get them into the first team very quickly.
“But the form of Dominic Calvert-Lewin is not there at the moment, Callum Wilson is good but will he be there for the next four or five years? Harry Kane we know he is amazing but there is a lack of leaders in the middle. Marcus Rashford is playing a lot and I think that is where he will be.
“Erik ten Hag wants him to stay there so he can have a real chance, but at the moment the best thing Nketiah can do is contribute to this Arsenal team and the special pace he has and the special season he is having.”
Now that Nketiah has established himself as a reliable option for Arteta from the start, it begs the question: Should Jesus keep his place when he returns from injury?
Here, Sky Sports takes a look at Arsenal’s two strategies and how they compare…
Who is most at risk?
Nketiah is way ahead of Jesus in terms of goals. He is Arsenal’s top scorer this season with nine goals in all competitions. Jesus, meanwhile, is on a run of 11 games without a goal which came in a 3-1 home win against Tottenham on October 1.
Jesus scores a goal every 290.4 minutes while Nketiah scores every 143.2 minutes in the league. So why are they scoring so often?
Nketiah spends more of his time between the goalposts in the crowded area, while Jesus works in the wider area. The Brazilian player likes to drop into the middle and move to the wings.
It is Nketiah’s ‘wolf in the box’ qualities that separates him from Jesus. He reveals his intentions and knows where to be at the right time.
Sky Sports scholar Paul Merson thinks that Nketiah brings something to Jesus. “I played with Gary Lineker,” he said Sky Sports.
“When the ball hits the post, they put it in, and people say, ‘Oh, that was easy.’
“That’s what Nketiah scored at Brighton in week four, and there was no way Jesus was going to score. He scored again on Sunday when there was no way Jesus was going to score.”
Nketiah’s penchant for scoring ‘easy’ goals, as Merson describes it, and doing so consistently is what separates him from Jesus, and, indeed, the rest of the league. He is among the top three Premier League players in terms of goals scored, with one every 147.25 minutes. Jesus, right now, has a minimum rate of one person every 306.25 minutes.
All four of Nketiah’s goals were scored on big chances. It is no coincidence that they continue to occupy these positions.
The only question that remains is whether they can keep it up for long. With no known time for Jesus’ return this time will be certain. But if Nketiah’s goalscoring average – 0.8 per 90, third best in the league – is anything to go by, he should have a productive season.
Who creates the information?
Jesus may be playing longer when he scores goals, but he is a key part of Arsenal’s build-up and provides more than just goals.
Although he spends more time in other areas, Jesus has more impact in the opposition box per 90 than anyone else in the league (10.36). He has the ability to hold the game with his back to the goal and vision to bring others into the game, often in dangerous areas.
It’s no coincidence that Bukayo Saka (8), Gabriel Martinelli (7) and Martin Odegaard (7) all have their best goals coming in. Before he was wounded, Jesus was the future of the resurrection.
Nketiah excels in this metric – registering 7.79 touches in the opposition box per 90, fifth in the league – but he cannot match what Jesus did.
Jesus makes a chance every 55 minutes and a great chance every 245 minutes. Meanwhile, Nketiah hasn’t had much chance for his teammates this season.
Jesus has six assists this season, second only to Arsenal’s Saka. Meanwhile, Nketiah has not failed to set up a goal. Only two strikers can help the Brazilian get back into open play every 245 minutes.
He is also adept at creating space by beating defenders, useful for breaking the low block. Jesus completes a take-off every 45.37 minutes, 9th in the league, compared to Nketiah, who does it every 73.63 minutes.
Jesus more than makes up for his shortcomings in front of the goal with his surrounding games, helping to lift others around him with his creativity.
Who is the most successful without having them?
Jesus’ lack of purpose is not a new thing. It was a common theme at Man City, but his ability on the ball helped Pep Guardiola set up his most efficient machine. Arteta has brought a similar style of football to the Emirates and the striker is key to that.
Speaking in February last year, Guardiola explained why Jesus was so important to that philosophy.
“When we need runners and players who contribute a lot with our pace and speed, he is the best in the world,” said the City boss. “Thanks to him we can be high and be very aggressive.
“[It helps] we get an extra song for our midfielders and our backs can last a long time. “
Jesus’ ability to cover a lot of ground up front allows him to press the ball early and set the tone for the whole team. The shooter dictates how high the entire team should be.
Nketiah outscores Jesus by 90 per cent in the league but the Brazilian is superior in terms of third downs, tackles and tackles. Jesus refined the skill of persistence under Guardiola and is a good candidate to take it again.
Nketiah gives Arteta a good head-to-head style with his goals, but he will need to improve in other areas to push Jesus into the starting line-up where needed.