hat a difference a month has made in the career of: Eddie Nketiah:.
Four weeks ago, he was without a Premier League start all season, drifting towards a summer in which his: Arsenal: contract was (and, as it stands, still is) set to expire, about to be searching for a new club without having had any real chance to enhance his reputation since Crystal Palace were leading the chase for his services 12 months ago.
But five starts on the spin and four crucial goals in a run of four straight wins for Mikel Arteta’s side have not only catapulted the Gunners to the brink of the Champions League but also seen his stock soar in timely fashion.
Now the striker has Arteta speaking publicly of his “adoration” and, according to reports, Europa League semi-finalists: West Ham: at the head of the race for his free agent signature should the Spaniard fail to convince him to sign a new deal at the Emirates after all.
If Arteta is to guide the Gunners back into the Champions League then a decision that weeks ago looked a no-brainer for the sake of Nketiah’s stalling career would surely become more complex for a player who has been at the club since the age of 16. Walking away would be made more difficult knowing not only the role he will have played in returning Arsenal to a competition they have not played in since before he made his debut, but also the opportunities, so lacking this season, that might be forthcoming amid a fixture list bloated by European commitments next.
But should the 22-year-old fail to be convinced that his recent run is something more than a stop-gap until a more high-profile replacement for Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang arrives in the summer, and should he decide that having at least a fair crack at becoming someone’s leading man week-in, week-out, is central to his ambition, then West Ham certainly looks a reasonable fit.
David Moyes has spent almost the entirety of his second spell in charge of the Hammers desperate to bolster his striking options, with little success. Michail Antonio has effectively operated as his only recognized striker this season (Andriy Yarmolenko has nominally deputised on occasion, but will move on this summer) and has been run into the ground.
The Jamaican international has played 45 games in all competitions, which is remarkable in itself given his injury history, but the 32-year-old has looked increasingly jaded in the second half of the campaign and the goals, never the most natural element of his center-forward play anyway, have dried up considerably. Early in the season, there was talk of a 20-goal target after he started the Premier League campaign with five-in-five, but he is yet to even reach double figures, his tap-in in Sunday’s win at Norwich ending a league drought that had stretched back to New Year’s Day.
That is not to denigrate Antonio’s overall contribution, which Moyes, amid public utterances of frustration at his forward’s lack of clinical edge, has continued to laud. But clearly, he needs help.
In Nketiah, the Scot would find a fine tactical fit, a hard-running forward capable of leading the line alone. His recent strikes against Chelsea and Leeds are evidence of the kind of lost-cause-chasing proficiency that is a common feature in Antonio’s selfless game.
His hold-up play is not on the same level as the West Ham man, but it is better than often given credit for when pigeon-holed as an out-and-out poacher, though that reputation has its roots in exactly the kind of goalscoring knack (albeit displayed largely in the Carabao Cup and with England’s Under-21s until recently) that Moyes is desperate to see.
The caveat is that, given the Hammers’ ambition and the relatively small dent his “free” signing would make in their transfer kitty, Nketiah would surely want assurances of not quickly ending up in the same position in which he has spent much of this season at the Emirates, sat on the bench behind more expensive, marquee signings.
Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins is also a target for the Hammers this summer and fits a similar profile but is proven over a longer period at Premier League level, while West Ham have not given up hope entirely of resurrecting their failed January move for Darwin Nunez, though the Benfica star’s sights may well be set higher. Compared to a month ago, things are looking up for Nketiah, too.