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At a crossroads, four games could decide Nketiah’s future – and Arsenal transfer plan

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here are not many players in the Premier League facing a more defining end to the season than Eddie Nketiah.

The 22-year-old has established himself as Arsenal’s main striker in recent weeks and suddenly it feels like he has their Champions League push, and his own future, in his hands.

For Arsenal, the equation is simple: better Tottenham’s results over the next four games and they will secure a return to the Champions League for the first time since 2016-17.

For Nketiah, though, the situation is more complicated when it comes to his future. He has two months left on his contract and has rejected several offers made to him over the course of the season.

Manager Mikel Arteta wants the England Under-21 international to stay and has spoken publicly about his desire to keep him since giving him a run of four straight starts.

“If there is one player that I have been unfair with, I think it is him,” said Arteta, after Nketiah scored twice in the 4-2 win at Chelsea last month.

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

Crystal Palace are favourites to sign Nketiah in the summer, largely because they did plenty of groundwork last year. The Eagles thought they had a deal over the line, but it collapsed late on over personal terms and they instead swooped for Odsonne Edouard.

They remain interested and Palace manager Patrick Vieira is a fan of Nketiah, but clubs in Germany and others are taking note of his good end to the season.

The key to talks with Arsenal over his future have been about game time.

The opportunity to play regular football is set to determine Nketiah’s next move. Whether Arteta can convince him he will get enough action at Arsenal remains to be seen, and it feels like his recent run in the team is too little, too late when it comes to salvaging his career at Emirates Stadium.

Nketiah is set to lead the line against Leeds on Sunday. But before this run of games, his time at Arsenal has failed to get off the ground.

Nketiah did enjoy a run in the team at the start of 2020 after returning from a loan spell at Leeds and impressing Arteta in training.

He scored in an FA Cup victory at Portsmouth and against Everton in the Premier League, but then Covid hit and stopped momentum building.

As fate would have it, though, Covid has now given him his chance, after Alexandre Lacazette contracted the virus at the start of April. He has been out of the team since.

Nketiah was first given the opportunity to lead the line against Southampton on April 16 and he has held on to his place since then, offering Arsenal something different to Lacazette in attack. Crucially, he gives them pace in behind and the ability to stretch opposition defenders, while the work he has put in on his hold-up play is evident to see.

Perhaps the next step would be finding a way for Nketiah to play out wide, because the need for him to operate as a No9 has undoubtedly contributed to his lack of minutes.

Both Arteta and his predecessor, Unai Emery, have tried him on the wing, but it has not worked and that lack of versatility is an issue given Arsenal’s summer transfer plans.

The Gunners are looking at signing two strikers, partly because Nketiah is set to leave.

But if he were to fire Arsenal into the Champions League, then it could change the picture.

“It’s nice obviously to be playing, that’s what every player wants to do,” said Nketiah after last Sunday’s win at West Ham. “The most important thing, though, is to get three points and keep on winning.”

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