20-year-old forward Eddie Nketiah made his second starting appearance in pre-season today as Arsenal faced Italian side Fiorentina. The Englishman produced a great performance in attack as the North London side won the game 3-0.
Going into the fixture, Arsenal head coach Unai Emery decided to use a completely different formation for the third game running. Rather than use a back-four, a 3-4-3 formation was implemented instead by the head coach to stretch the game wide and get the ball to those in the middle.
Similarly to the victory versus the Colorado Rapids, Emery fielded a younger side in the first-half mixed with a few senior players like Nacho Monreal and Shkodran Mustafi.
Eddie Nketiah led the line in the first half in what was a narrow attack. The Englishman was accompanied by fellow compatriots Bukayo Saka and Reiss Nelson on either side of him in the attack, the former on the left and the latter on the right. Nketiah linked up well Saka on the left flank but Nelson struggled to have a similar influence in the attack. Also, the attacking trio was supported offensively out wide by the wing-backs Sead Kolasinac and Carl Jenkinson.
Going into the game, the 20-year-old came close to scoring his first goal after a few minutes following a nice ball in from Kolasinac. The wing-back linked well with James Olayinka and drove down the flank. However, the delivery of the cross was quite inaccurate and the ball deflected out for a corner.
However, the Englishman didn’t have to wait too long to score his second goal in pre-season. Following a nice combination between Saka and Kolasinac, the latter found himself driving down the flank once again. While his delivery was once again quite poor, the ball Nketiah this time around following a slight deflection. With the ball at his feet, the young forward dropped his shoulder to take out the other defender behind him before he calmly opened the scoring.
Although the combination between Kolasinac and Saka played a key part in the opening goal, Nketiah’s movement during the attack deserved more attention. The young forward did well to exploit the space that was created after the right-sided defender drifted wider during Kolasinac’s run.
While most of his play is focused down the middle, Nketiah’s bursts of energy, especially in the channels, makes him a bigger threat offensively, especially because he’s not the type of player that relies on his pace.
For the remainder of the half, nothing major happened offensively involving the 20-year-old apart from some nice runs both with and without the ball.
Following a pretty average first half overall, Emery decided to switch up the game tactically and reverted to a more favourable 4-4-2 formation. Frenchman Alexandre Lacazette was brought on for Kolasinac to accompany Nketiah in attack while Saka and Nelson seemingly switched flanks.
After hitting the ground running in the first half, Nketiah initially struggled to replicate this in the second half and had a quieter game. However, that’s not to say he was poor but more that he was unable to get as much action with the ball.
Just after the hour mark, Nketiah was able to score his second goal of the game and his third overall in pre-season. Following a nice counter-attack from Arsenal that started off with right-back Jenkinson, Henrikh Mkhitaryan retrieved the ball and played it across the line to Lacazette who passed it to Nketiah for an easy finish.
The goal was the type that Lacazette could’ve easily scored himself. But, allowing Nketiah to score instead should do wonders for his already high confidence.
If I’m being honest, I have absolutely no idea where I stand with Eddie Nketiah. The 20-year-old has arguably been the Gunners’ best player during pre-season so far and I’m not sure what the best path will be for his development. Should he stay at Arsenal, there’s a strong chance that he features semi-regularly in the first-team set-up but a loan move away and the opportunity of playing consistent first-team football could be better for him.
Regardless, after some exceptional performances already, I’m looking forward to seeing how Nketiah performs for the remainder of pre-season.
My rating – 8.5/10