Nketiah's Arsenal contract: Is Arteta really to blame for forward's likely exit?

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Eddie Nketiah’s stock has never been higher.

The 22-year-old striker is expected to start his fifth straight Premier League game on Sunday when Arsenal host Leeds United at Emirates Stadium.

And it will be rich reward for his fine recent performances which have helped inspire a huge turnaround in fortunes for the Gunners.

Mikel Arteta’s side looked down and out in the race for the Champions League after falling to three successive defeats last month, but the decision to replace the misfiring Alexandre Lacazette with Nketiah has helped revitalise Arsenal’s campaign.

He scored twice in the win at Chelsea and has followed that up with impressive performances in the victories against Manchester United and West Ham which followed.

“I thought Nketiah was the best player on the pitch," Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness said after the crucial 2-1 success at the London Stadium last Sunday which moved Arsenal back into the top four. 

"He was always threatening, wanting to run forward without the ball and stretch the defenders.

“I thought he was fabulous.”

Nketiah’s impressive end-of-season form has once again shone a light on his contractual situation at Arsenal.

The forward, who signed as a 15-year-old having been released by Chelsea, has just a few months left of his current deal with the Gunners.

And, so far, he has resisted numerous attempts by the club to extend his stay, although further talks are expected in the coming weeks before a final decision is made.

Nketiah quote

“There have been talks and offers of a new contract, but my aim is to play football and play regularly,” Nketiah admitted during a recent appearance on the The Beautiful Game podcast.

“I love Arsenal, so I just want to focus on the season and make sure I finish in a good way and then sit down and see what the best opportunity is to allow me to take those steps and develop.”

There is strong interest in Nketiah from clubs in England and abroad.

Crystal Palace are long-term admirers and were close to signing him last summer, only for the deal to break down over a failure to agree personal terms.

But the south London club still maintain a strong interest in the attacker, while Brighton are also believed to be monitoring the situation.

A move to Germany could also be an option, with Bayer Leverkusen one of several overseas clubs who are keen on the Hale End graduate.

Arsenal continue to insist that they want Nketiah to stay and they are expected to make one final attempt to get him to put pen to paper on a new deal.

But to do that they must convince him that he is a key part of their long-term plans.

Arteta has been full of praise for Nketiah during the past month and has accepted responsibility for his lack of game time this season.

“If there is one player I have been unfair with, it is him,” said the Arsenal manager.

“He has given me every right to do something different, so if Eddie hasn’t played more, it’s my fault because as a manager I have missed something or I haven’t had the courage to play him more.

“He is just a phenomenal player and he has shown [that], not just to me, but to the whole team and that’s why he is so respected in the dressing room.”

The fact is, however, that Nketiah had to wait until the game at Southampton last month to be handed his first Premier League start of the season.

And that is despite Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leaving for Barcelona in January and Lacazette contributing just four league goals – his worst tally since he arrived in North London from Lyon in 2017.

Nketiah was given chances in the cup competitions and scored five goals in five games, including a hat-trick in the quarter-final win against Sunderland.

But Premier League starts continued to elude him and at 22, that is what he now craves.

“For me to take the next step and get to where I think I can get to, I need to consider getting more minutes and playing.” Nketiah told the Beautiful Game podcast while discussing his contract situation.

“I signed a contract [at Arsenal] for five years when I was 18 and in those five years how many starts have I had? 

“I went on loan for six months and I’ve been here for the rest of them and I’ve probably started 30 games in all competitions. People start 30 games in one season.

“I want to play games. My aim is to play football, that’s what everyone’s aim should be.”

While covering the West Ham game for Sky Sports last weekend, Souness said he was "amazed" that Nketiah’s contract was almost up.

Nketiah quote

“He won’t be short of teams wanting him,” the Liverpool legend added.

And while that may be the case, it’s difficult to lay too much blame on Arsenal and Arteta for the way they have handled the situation.

Nketiah has had previous chances to impress prior to this run in the side but has rarely taken them, other than against lower league clubs in cup competitions.

And he was competing for places with Aubameyang and Lacazette, who had been regular top-flight goal scorers before their struggles this season.

So, it’s not hard to see why Nketiah had been struggling for game time and it must be noted that he is still just 22.

Arsenal will be transforming their striking options in the summer, with Gabriel Jesus and Dominic Calvert-Lewin both targets as Arteta looks to add more goals to his squad.

Contract talks will continue with Nketiah and Arsenal will point to the fact they will be back competing in Europe next season so will have more games to play in.

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As it stands, however, a new deal remains unlikely as the forward looks for guarantees over a starting spot which Arteta can’t provide.

Therefore, it will take a major change in stance from the player to stop him leaving on a free at the end of the season.

Nketiah’s stock has certainly never been higher, but it’s looking more and more like his future is away from North London – whatever happens between now and the end of the season.