Eddie Nketiah was considering his Arsenal future last season and had a few different options on the table.
Crystal Palace had followed Nketiah for a while and German side Borussia Monchengladbach were also sniffing around the 23-year-old. Both wanted to sign him on a free transfer in the summer.
By mid-April Nketiah had started just five times and his prospects at the Emirates looked bleak with only two-and-a-half months left on his deal. The writing appeared to be on the wall with Nketiah keen to leave in search of first-team opportunities.
But when Alexandre Lacazette lost his place in the team, Nketiah took full advantage and scored five goals in the final eight games of the season. Manager Mikel Arteta convinced the striker he had a future at Arsenal and Nketiah agreed to stay in north London for the long term.
The £45m arrival of Gabriel Jesus from Man City, though, consigned him to more time on the bench. Until Jesus picked up his knee injury at the World Cup with Brazil, Nketiah had been limited to substitute appearances in the Premier League and had to make do with being Arsenal’s cup striker.
But since being called upon by Arteta to deputise, Nketiah has risen to the occasion once again. His six goals in six games in all competitions since the season resumed is bettered only by Marcus Rashford and Erling Haaland in the Premier League.
Crucially, two of those goals came in Sunday’s crunch match against Manchester United. His last-gasp flick secured a 90th-minute win for Arsenal to extend their lead at the top of the table to five points with a game in hand.
Nev: Nketiah deserves England call-up
Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville on the Gary Neville Podcast:
“An England call-up is due for Eddie Nketiah. Gareth Southgate is very good at allowing players to see their U21 career through and not bring them into the first team too early.
“But Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s form isn’t there at the moment, Callum Wilson is good but is he going to be there for the next four or five years? Harry Kane we know is fantastic but there is a dearth of centre-forwards. Marcus Rashford is playing wide and I think that’s where he’s going to stay.
“Erik ten Hag wants him to stay there so he’s got a real opportunity, but at the moment the best thing Nketiah can do is contribute to this Arsenal team and this very special run that they’re on and special season they’re having.”
Now Nketiah has established himself as a credible option for Arteta from the start, it raises the question: should Jesus keep his spot when he returns from injury?
Here, Sky Sports takes a look at Arsenal’s two striking options and how they compare…
Who is more of a goal threat?
Nketiah is streets ahead of Jesus in terms of goalscoring. He is Arsenal’s top scorer this season with nine goals in all competitions. Jesus, meanwhile, is on an 11-game run without a goal which dates to the 3-1 home win over Tottenham on October 1.
Jesus averages a goal every 290.4 minutes while Nketiah scores every 143.2 minutes in the league. So why is he scoring so much more frequently?
Nketiah spends more of his time in between the goalposts in a concentrated area, whereas Jesus operates in a broader space. The Brazilian tends to drop into midfield and out to the wings.
It is Nketiah’s ‘fox-in-the-box’ qualities that separate him from Jesus. He sniffs out the goals and knows just where to be at the right time.
Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson thinks Nketiah brings something different to Jesus. “I played with and against Gary Lineker,” he told Sky Sports.
“When the ball used to hit the post, he’d tap it in, and people would say, ‘oh, that was easy’. But no one else was there, pushing him out the way to score.
“That’s the thing with Nketiah. He scored at Brighton the other week, and there was no way Jesus was scoring that. He scored again on Sunday when there was no way Jesus was scoring that.”
Nketiah’s propensity to score ‘easy’ goals, as Merson describes, and do so consistently is what separates him from Jesus and, in fact, the rest of the division. He is in the top three of Premier League players when it comes to his frequency of big chances scored, with one every 147.25 minutes. Jesus, meanwhile, has a comparatively meagre rate of one every 306.25 minutes.
All four of Nketiah’s goals have been scored from big chances. It is no accident he keeps getting in these positions.
The only lingering question is whether he can keep it up over a longer period. With no clear timeframe on Jesus’ return this period will be decisive. But if Nketiah’s expected goals – 0.8 per 90, the third best in the league – is anything to go by, he should have a fruitful season.
Who creates more?
Jesus may be playing catch-up when it comes to scoring goals, but he is a key part of Arsenal’s build-up and offers so much more than just goals.
Despite spending so much time in other areas, Jesus averages more touches in the opposition box per 90 than anyone else in the league (10.36). He has the strength to hold up play with his back to goal and the vision to bring others into the game, often in dangerous areas.
It is no coincidence that Bukayo Saka (8), Gabriel Martinelli (7) and Martin Odegaard (7) are all having their best goalscoring seasons yet following his arrival. Before his injury, Jesus was the focal point for the attack.
Nketiah performs well in this metric – registering 7.79 touches in the opposition box per 90, the fifth highest in the league – but is unable to match Jesus’ creative output.
Jesus creates a chance every 55 minutes and a big chance every 245 minutes. Nketiah, meanwhile, is yet to muster up a big chance for a team-mate this season.
Jesus has six assists this season, the second-most of any Arsenal player, behind only Saka. Nketiah, meanwhile, has not failed to set up a goal. Only two strikers can better the Brazilian’s return of an open-play assist every 245 minutes.
He is also adept at creating space by beating defenders, helpful when breaking down a low block. Jesus completes a take-on every 45.37 minutes, ranking ninth in the league, compared to Nketiah, who does so every 73.63 minutes.
Jesus more than makes up for his shortcomings in front of goal with his all-round game, helping to elevate others around him with his creativity.
Who is the most effective out of possession?
Jesus’ lack of goals is not a new thing. It was a common theme at Man City, but his abilities off the ball helped Pep Guardiola to establish his high-pressing system. Arteta has brought a similar style of football to the Emirates and the striker is the key to that.
Speaking in February of last year, Guardiola explained why Jesus was so important to that philosophy.
“When we need runners and players that help a lot with our high intensity and high pressing, he is the best in the world,” said the City boss. “Thanks to him we can stay high and be so aggressive.
“[It helps] us get extra rhythm for our midfield players and our back four can stay high for a long time.”
Jesus’ ability to cover so much ground across the frontline allows him to pressure the ball early on and set the tone for the rest of the team. The striker dictates how high up the pitch the whole team is.
Nketiah is outperforming Jesus in pressures per 90 in the league but the Brazilian is superior when it comes to possession won in the attacking third, interceptions and tackles. Jesus refined the art of pressing under Guardiola and is more efficient at regaining possession.
Nketiah gives Arteta the good kind of selection headache with his goalscoring, but will need to improve these other areas to push Jesus for a starting spot when it really counts.
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