News that Folarin Balogun is close to signing a new long-term contract with Arsenal is likely to signal the end of Eddie Nketiah’s new career at the Emirates Stadium.
After intense speculation about Balogun’s future, it seems that Mikel Arteta has finally persuaded the 19-year-old that his stay in north London will give him the first legal opportunities he wants – a relief for many Arsenal fans who probably thought another young star – remember Donyell Malen – went out the door for free.
However, there is one person at the club for whom this news will be a blow and that is England Under 21 striker and record goal scorer at that level, Nketiah.
At the beginning of the campaign, Nketiah had plenty of opportunities from Arteta and seemed to be a player that the coaching staff had a lot of confidence in. But in a rather dramatic decline, the 21-year-old has not been named in a Premier League squad since early February – a damning indication of where he is now.
That begs the question, what has Nketiah done wrong? To be honest, nothing.
If anything, it took Arteta far too long to realize that Nketiah was not close enough to lead Arsenal’s attack. He has only averaged one goal every five games for the club, and despite having 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 made in the Europa League group stage against weak opposition (Dundalk & Rapid Vienna) and the other won the Carabao Cup in Leicester.
While many fans demanded that Balogun get more opportunities in the first team, Arteta continued to continue with Nketiah, despite his moderate points return. But with his contract due to expire in the summer of 2022, no signs of renewal and Balogun about to sign a four-year extension, it appears that a necessary adjustment of the breeding order has taken place.
Eddie Nketiah has frozen out Sebastian Frej / MB Media / Getty Images in recent months
It’s the perfect time for Nketiah to sit back, take a look at where he is, and instruct his agent to look for new pastures.
Whether he is excluded from Premier League football remains to be seen at this stage, but it is now undoubted that Arteta has realized that he is not the successor to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Alexandre Lacazette – Arsenal’s two leading lights who have seen their own future called in 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 what kind of instincts he has in front of goal. Looking at him gives you the warm blurred feeling inside, and it’s obvious there’s untapped potential inside. The only way Arsenal can find out if he is good enough is to play him more often.
Nketiah has been given that luxury, and although he is not a terrible player in any way, he is not an Arsenal caliber. With one year left on their business, the Gunners will not be able to pay a significant fee – but should at least be able to get a decent chunk of money back if a lower division of the Premier League side calls.