Wolves and Crystal Palace linked with stunning £50m striker swoop - but is he worth the money?

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Three Premier League sides are said to be in the hunt for Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah - but can he justify the supposed £50m price tag?

When Eddie Nketiah smashed a hat-trick past a beleaguered Sheffield United at the end of October, it appeared as though the Arsenal forward was finally coming good. A call-up to the England squad followed shortly thereafter and his stock was finally rising after years on the fringes – but that was as good as it got. He managed just one further goal all season, in a Champions League dead rubber against PSV Eindhoven, and now Mikel Arteta is looking to offload him in the summer.

Wolverhampton Wanderers, Crystal Palace and Fulham have been suggested as a possible destination several times over the past few months, and GiveMeSport are now reporting that Arsenal have set a £50m price tag on the 25-year-old striker’s head. But can he really be worth that much to any of the three supposed suitors? And would he be an upgrade up front for any of them?

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Nketiah’s numbers don’t tell an especially happy story on the surface, but while he only managed a total of five league goals from an xG of 4.5, that works out at a respectable 0.44 goals every 90 minutes he played – the equivalent of a 16-goal season, had he started and finished every match. Unfortunately, while that looks good on paper, it’s still behind the equivalent marks set by the lead strikers of each of the three teams linked with his signature – Matheus Cunha, Jean-Phillippe Mateta and Rodrigo Muniz.

That’s also before you factor in the fact that one big game against Sheffield United may have skewed his relatively small sample size favourably – and the statistics he put up in other areas of the game are a mixed bag too.

Nketiah has often been criticised for his ability to generate good openings for himself and his team-mates, and the numbers back that concern up. Although he gets the ball in the penalty area a lot – 6.70 per game puts him up in the top 10% in Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues – the final result of just 4.5xG and 2.21 shots created per game is poor. In other words, although he uses his speed and guile to find space well, he doesn’t find spaces for good shooting angles and he doesn’t create enough for those around him either, at least by elite standards.

But while his ability to create chances for others and act as an effective part of the build-up has been criticised, he is actually ahead of at least one of the three players we’re drawing a comparison with – Muniz, who is a fine out-and-out number nine but whose all-round game is weak. The table below shows us where Nketiah is outgunned, but also where he compares rather more favourably:

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An argument could be made that Nketiah would complement a player like Muniz well as a striker partner, rather than a replacement, and he does have some experience of playing out wide. The stats also don’t show up the simple fact that he’s probably the fastest of the four, with only Cunha really able to hold a candle to his pace, and that certainly adds an extra dimension to his game that others don’t have.

There’s no doubt that Nketiah has untapped potential and a knack for scoring goals if given sufficient service and a system that suits him. The question is which teams might have that system. It’s not immediately apparent, for instance, why he would flourish more in Wolves’ version of 4-2-3-1 than in Arsenal’s – unless Gary O’Neil saw potential for him to act as a wide forward outside of Cunha who could also back the Brazilian up in the event of an injury.

Indeed, all three teams mentioned used a three-man front line, although perhaps Crystal Palace’s narrower set up with wing-backs providing the threat down the flanks could get more players closer to him than the others, which could work – but then again, Arsenal played the first half of the season with a very compact system and that didn’t get the best out of Nketiah either. There is no clear consensus yet on precisely how one does get his best play out of him.

All of which makes it hard to justify a £50m price tag. It may not be such a massive fee in the modern era – Cunha cost £44m himself, after all, but the Arsenal man has yet to prove he’s worth so much and doesn’t have an unquestionable track record of goals behind him. Somewhere, there is probably a home for him, and a club and system at which he can finally blossom as he was expected to for so long, but it’s hard to see, from a distance, how any of the clubs linked with him offer a distinctly new template for him to play within. His future is hard to predict, but if he gets his next move wrong, it could be the end of his chances of carving out a truly top-level career. Let’s hope he finds the right club for him.

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