Eddie Nketiah has settled back into life at Arsenal very well since his tough loan spell at Elland Road with Leeds United was cut short at the start of January, after a lack of playing time.
The Whites completed the loan signing of highly sought-after Arsenal youngster Eddie Nketiah in the summer as they beat off stiff competition for his signature, seeing him provide competition up front for Patrick Bamford to hopefully displace him.
However, it was a slow-burner for the England under-21 international as he had to wait until mid-August for his league debut, but made an instant impact for the Whites, scoring a debut goal against Brentford late on to seal a 1-0 win.
It promised big things for Leeds as he continued to make a great impact from the bench with many thinking he would surely be in for a league start before long, especially with Bamford’s woeful form in front of goal, however, it took until the final game of 2019 for him to start as he replaced an injured Bamford for the trip to Birmingham City.
He started the following game on New Year’s Day against West Brom, but an ineffectual first-half showing saw Bamford introduced and he helped the side to a 1-1 draw, only for Nketiah’s recall to North London to be confirmed after the game.
Since then, Mikel Arteta has placed a lot of faith in Nketiah and favoured him to start in the league and cup over Alexandre Lacazette, and to great effect as he is showing just why Arteta was right to see him stick around for the season.
There was a lot of confusion from not just Leeds fans and pundits around Bielsa’s unwillingness to hand Nketiah a start, with the Argentine alluding to a lack of sharpness in the right areas as a key reason, considering his poor link-up play compared to Bamford’s in attacking situations.
There is a divide amongst people wondering whether Bielsa made a mistake letting the situation worsen with Nketiah’s game-time, to the point where the Gunners had had enough of it.
But was Bielsa right to let him leave for his parent club? The stats below tell a mixed story…
Outlining just how little chance Nketiah was given comes in the number of minutes played for Leeds and Arsenal respectively.
In a whole half a season of Championship and Carabao Cup football, Nketiah only managed 752 minutes, which equates to just over eight full games, while he managed three actual full games under Bielsa and the rest coming in cameos.
At Arsenal, he has already managed 412 minutes played, with his most recent outing seeing him play a full game on Monday night against Portsmouth in the FA Cup, where he scored the Gunners’ second in a 2-0 win.
This took his tally for the season at Arsenal up to three already since coming back in January, along with another FA Cup goal in the previous round against Bournemouth and a Premier League goal against Everton last weekend. All three of his goals came in a very similar fashion as he managed to break free of his marker to finish from close range after latching onto accurate crosses.
The majority of his five goals at Leeds came in the manner as he got on the end of some accurate crossing into the proverbial ‘corridor of uncertainty’ between goalkeeper and his defenders.
An outlier in these was when he reacted well to a poor Jack Butland clearance against Stoke City in the Carabao Cup, rounding him to tap into an empty net.
His xG scores compared to his actual goals tally makes for interesting reading too and a clear point of strength in his game, but also a massive pointer in the direction that Bielsa may have been wrong not to trust him.
His score at Leeds stood at 4.47, while his Arsenal one currently stands at 1.9, showing that he is comfortably outperforming xG and showing his clinical finishing in and around the six-yard box.
Bamford has been struggling immensely in front of goal this season and his xG score is well-above his actual standing, meaning he is not taking chances as well as he should be, while Nketiah is going above and beyond.
Can you name the last 12 Leeds United no.1s?
A major flaw in his game at Elland Road was his link-up play to hold his own as a lone striker, and his passing accuracy stands at a sub-par 76.7%, while his Gunners percentage is at a very impressive 86%. It has to be taken into account that Nketiah was coming on in games for Leeds when they were pressing for a winner or another goal, while the areas of the pitch he played in became too frantic for him to gain control as shown in the difference of nearly 10%. At Arsenal, he has been handed starts where he can grow into a game and link up with fellow attackers in a formation that certainly suits him more.
The quality of the players around him helps too, with over £130million of talent either side of him.
What is interesting is that he managed more touches in the box per 90 minutes with Leeds than he is doing with Arsenal as his Leeds numbers stand at 5.51 while his Arsenal figure stands at 3.71 at the moment. There is a difference between the amount of dominance that both have in each game which can account for Nketiah’s activity in the box, as Leeds are comfortably the most dominant with possession in the league, while Arsenal’s style isn’t as clear yet under new management.
His progressive runs per game also lean in the favour of Leeds, rather surprisingly, as he averaged 1.8 per game for Leeds while he averages 1.53 per game for the North London side. Leeds’ counter-attacking is not as common as Arsenal’s is and it’s surprising to see that he has managed to complete more in a white shirt compared to a red one.
There will always be doubts over Bielsa’s management of this situation as he continues to dazzle at the Emirates but the stats such as his passing accuracy are a massive standout as to why he couldn’t quite earn a starting berth for Leeds. His performances have to be taken with a pinch of salt at Arsenal compared to Leeds too because he’s playing in a far more talented side with a more consistent flow of quality distribution from the likes of Nicolas Pepe, Mesut Ozil, Buyako Saka, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and so on.