On Monday night, Arsenal travel to Bournemouth in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Could this be the first-team return of Eddie Nketiah?
Eddie Nketiah spent a frustrating six months on loan at Leeds United. In the summer, the centre-forward toed and froed between staying at Arsenal and leaving the club on a temporary basis to gain some regular playing time.
In the end, the decision backfired. Nketiah largely sat on the bench for Leeds, playing 17 matches in the Championship of which only two were starts. He was resigned to cup competitions and substitute appearances, the same opportunity he would be handed had he stayed in north London.
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As a result of this frustrating period, Arsenal chose to exercise a clause in Nketiah’s contract to bring him back to the club. They initially did this with the intention of re-sending him back out on loan. Bristol City were the leading candidates. But after some impressive work on the training ground, an untimely Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang suspension and on the whims of Mikel Arteta, it was decided that Nketiah would remain at the club for the final six months of the season.
It is obviously an exciting proposition, a 20-year-old showing off his skills in a week’s worth of training to the extent that the new head coach changes his mind on the player’s future. And it will be extremely intriguing to see what type of impact Nketiah can have on the team over the remainder of the season, starting on Monday night against Bournemouth.
Arsenal travel to Bournemouth for their FA Cup fourth-round tie against the Cherries. After a hectic festive and January period, as well as some crucial absences, Aubameyang the most notable of them, there is a very clear opportunity that Nketiah could start — or at the very least feature in a major way.
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Should Nketiah make an appearance from the start, this is very much the return of a player who has some very high hopes and expectations for his future. As a natural-born goalscorer, the striker has performed terrifically at every youth level, including on the international stage, impressed during his brief moments for the senior team, and during preseason, especially this summer when many felt that Nketiah was pushing for a significant squad role.
As Gabriel Martinelli has proven in recent weeks, there is the opportunity for young players to shine on the senior stage and forge a stronger role for themselves in the starting XI. Martinelli could well be considered a starting player thanks to his performances. Nketiah might look to follow that path, one that Bukayo Saka, Reiss Nelson and others are following.
If he is to forge a role for himself in Arteta’s plans, Nketiah must impress when he gets the chance. And Monday’s trip to Bournemouth might well be his first chance upon his return.