Keep the Faith: Can Eddie Help Maintain Arsenals Pre-World Cup Form?

It wouldn’t be an off-season or a break without some kind of Arsenal meltdown. However, this has been somewhat justifiable as our talisman, arguably the man who has epitomised our resurgence and our best start in PL history has just undergone surgery and will be out for most likely three months. I will not waste my energy getting upset, as that will come in due time when we crumble in February, but simply I am going to manifest and argue a case as to why everything will be OK. Partly because I am, like so many, gutted, but also to counter a few things I have been reading about my boy Eddie.  

Whatever happens, Nketiah, cannot replicate Jesus. The man is a pressing machine, the catalyst for our attack, elevating those around him and linking our play. The man hasn’t scored in what feels like years, but he is still at the centre of everything we have done this season. He pins even the strongest CBs back and then 30 seconds later will be dropping into CM to kick start another attack. His talismanic harrying, insane ball retention and dribbling skills (whilst probably a contributing factor to his hurried finishing) are hard for anyone to replicate. I’m sure if Liverpool lost Salah, City lost KDB or Spurs lost Kane for three months, their performances would plateau. 

I do not think this is the massive fall down the table many are anticipating (it still could’ve happened if he stayed). Firstly, every crisis presents opportunity. With Tomiyasu out, we have seen White turn into one of Europe’s highest performing RBs, and with White moved across, Saliba came in and has proved an immovable object next to Gabriel. Whilst I don’t think Nketiah will have quite the same impact (most likely because he has been here for years) but we have never been in a position to see this version of Eddie. 

Eddie has never hidden from a challenge. Since those first two goals on his debut under Wenger, Eddie was rewarded with a new contract but has had very few chances to lead the line for Arsenal. The following season, Eddie saw Arsenal spend over £100m on Lacazette and Aubameyang, and once they finally left, Arsenal spent £45m on Gabriel Jesus. In his first full stretch of games (he had a couple in Arteta’s first run of games as Manager), Nketiah notched up 5 goals in 8 Premier League starts. This was playing in a very stretched Arsenal squad, with Partey, Tierney, Tomiyasu and White out injured simultaneously in the games he was leading the line. He scored some important match-winning goals, but ultimately, like the rest of the team, fell short at the final hurdle in those pivotal games against Spurs and Newcastle. Eddie will be playing not only with the aforementioned players that missed the run in last season, but also Zinchenko, Saliba, Vieira and hopefully one or two more purchases in January.

With only Saka, Martinelli and Saliba not back in full training with the team, Nketiah has been given a mid-season break to focus, train and again, prove the doubters wrong and truly flourish in a fully functioning Arsenal attack. Eddie will be able to prove his worth in a team that can sustain attacks, keep a high line and give him the best possible chance to demonstrate his finishing ability we have seen in glimpses off the bench and in Europa/Carabao ties this year. If we managed to hit Man City/Liverpool levels of 21/22 with that tub of lard up top in Lacazette, it is hard to argue that Nketiah cannot replicate this at a minimum, with 0 effect on our style of play. Whilst this would’ve been somewhat more guaranteed or certain with a fully fit Gabriel Jesus, we cannot write him off just yet. 

Nketiah will have had essentially a whole pre-season under the watchful gaze of Arteta during this World Cup break, who will know the exact timeframes for Jesus’ injury. Nketiah will relish this opportunity, and Arteta has obviously seen something in him, giving him £100k a week and the #14, refusing to sell or loan him out, and even publicly apologising for his failure to give him any minutes. Arteta has known for some time that Nketiah will be leading the line, and Arsenal, unlike say City who had Cancelo/Dias/Walker/Foden/Ederson/Stones/Grealish/Silva at the World Cup for a sustained period, has been able to work with Nketiah, Odegaard, ESR, Vieira, Xhaka, Partey etc for some time, to build some attacking rhythm that Nketiah would’ve failed to get whilst he was out of the team. 

However, even if Nketiah can replicate 50-75% of what Jesus does, Arteta will have some job on his hands continuing the great form we had before the World Cup that saw us 5 points clear of Man City. It is clear we needed another body in there, not only due to the World Cup and fatigue, but also as the games will continue to stack up, and our front three will need rotations and options off the bench to compete with these attacks throughout a full season:

City: Foden, Silva, Haaland, Grealish, Mahrez, Alvarez
Liverpool: Salah, Firmino, Jota, Nunez, Diaz
Spurs: Kane, Son, Kulusevski, Richarlison 

There are no guarantees ESR will hit the form he previously did for us before his niggling injuries, nor that he will even play as a forward, considering he was playing on the interior for us in pre-season. Many argue that we should move Martinelli into CF and play ESR out wide, however, Arteta has continually suggested that he is not going to jeopardise two positions for the sake of one. The rotations and positional play/awareness will already falter without Jesus. Don’t multiply that by taking out Martinelli too. He may get there one day but this is not the time to start an experiment like that. So who do Arsenal target?

When there was huge clamour for a striker last January, Arsenal hierarchy stood firm and waited for the right man, Gabriel Jesus, and I think that patience and refusal to just buy just anyone was vindicated. We could’ve gone short-term and brought a striker in, and this would have most likely got us top four but would’ve maybe delayed the transition into the team we see today. 

However, the decision this January is slightly different, as what is possible is beyond our wildest dreams. It is hard to say that we will have a start like this ever again, or other teams around us will struggle as they have, or City won’t be as dominant (watch them get Bellingham in this Summer). We already needed one when Jesus was fit, and I feel that his injury will push us to go for two. We have the money allocated for a wide forward, having had a £65m bid accepted for Raphinha and news outlets reporting that we were in for Pedro Neto, and had bids turned down for Joao Felix and Ferran Torres. We probably need one short-term signing (in the mould of Odegaard loan in 20/21, not the Denis Suarez of 18/19) and an attacker that will push our front three, much like Jota for Liverpool.

There are opportunities for signings in the January window, Spurs brought in two players last January that transformed their form in Kulusevski and Bentancur. Liverpool signed Diaz as their Mane replacement and City signed Alvarez as their Torres replacement. There is value to be found in the market, with many players whose clubs could be tempted to sell with their contracts running out in the Summer in Asensio, Trossard, Zaha or Thuram. Or we could again target those we have previously courted in Mudryk, Felix and Torres. Nketiah can only be fairly assessed with a fully functioning attack, and this attack already needed strengthening pre-Jesus injury. It is only fair to judge him after a few games (not in some nonsense friendly against Juventus – even though he played fairly well). Eddie has continually surprised people throughout his Arsenal career, and here’s hoping he will do it again. 


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2 Responses to Keep the Faith: Can Eddie Help Maintain Arsenals Pre-World Cup Form?

  1. Silentstan December 19, 2022 at 3:16 pm #

    Not a chance in hell. He is championship standard

  2. allezkev December 21, 2022 at 3:27 am #

    An Odegaard quality loan signing would be just the ticket along with a permanent attacking option, Edu is going to be under the microscope in just over 10 days time, let’s hope he can can continue his rich vein of incoming transfers, it’s up for grabs now…

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