‘It’s a panic’ – Arsenal top-four finish would ‘shock’ pundit should Arteta persist with Nketiah

Jason Soutar
Paul Merson talks about England

Paul Merson is fearing for Premier League leaders Arsenal’s top-four credentials with Eddie Nketiah in line to come in for the injured Gabriel Jesus.

The Gunners sit top of the Premier League having only lost one of their opening 14 matches this term.

Much of their success this season has been down to Jesus, who joined from Manchester City last summer.

The Brazilian has chipped in with a few goals, but it is his overall play that has really influenced Mikel Arteta’s side.

His pressing, link-up play and ball carrying have made a huge difference from 2021-22 when Alexandre Lacazette was leading the line.

Jesus suffered a knee injury while on World Cup duty with quarter-finalists Brazil and will miss around three months of action.

Nketiah – who signed a huge long-term contract in the summer – is expected to start for Arsenal against West Ham on Boxing Day.

The 23-year-old is a good player, but it is fair to say he is not on the same level as Jesus.

He is actually so far off that level that former Arsenal midfielder Merson thinks the Gunners could finish outside the Champions League places if Arteta does not bring in a new forward in January.

Nketiah has zero Premier League goals this term, though he is yet to start a top-flight match and has only played more than 20 minutes of a match once.

Merson doesn’t think Nketiah gets into Wolves’ team despite the fact they are bottom of the league and is clearly not confident about his former side’s chances of maintaining a title challenge without Jesus.

“I try not to read too much into friendlies but it’s a massive worry for Arsenal that they’re now relying on out-of-form Eddie Nketiah when the Premier League returns,” Merson wrote for the Daily Star.

“They could go eight points clear if they beat West Ham before Manchester City play a game and you still wouldn’t fancy them to win the title without Gabriel Jesus.

“It’s hard because even though he doesn’t score an awful lot of goals, he is still so effective. If he’s out for three months, I’d be shocked if they got in the top four. I just don’t see where the goals come from, I might be wrong.

“I don’t really see Gabriel Martinelli being a solution through the middle, he’s not a proven centre-forward. Without being horrible, what Premier League team does Eddie Nketiah get in?

“Wolves are bottom for instance, they’re desperate for a goal and they wouldn’t go and get him.

“For me, it’s really worrying. This is no disrespect to Nketiah or the other players but Jesus gels everything together. He is Arsenal’s very own Roberto Firmino.

“Jesus has just been too influential in the first few months of the season, I just don’t see how they get by without him.

“With Arsenal, their depth isn’t quite good enough but all their best players have played virtually every game. Now all of a sudden, it’s a panic.

“Arsenal have three very difficult games over Christmas in West Ham, Brighton and Newcastle.

“If Jesus was fit, you’d fancy them to get seven points and things would be looking rosy but now it’s concerning.

“Nketiah might deliver for three games but I just don’t see him doing it for 10 or more matches.”

Believe it or not, Merson doesn’t have a clue who Arteta could look to bring in next month. Brilliant.

“I was talking to my friend the other day and we said there’s just nobody out there that Arsenal can go and get,” he continued.

“I’ve mentioned Cody Gakpo in recent weeks but he actually looked poor against Argentina for Holland at the World Cup.

“We were rattling our brains but to no avail. Portugal striker Goncalo Ramos was also mentioned but after scoring a hat-trick against Switzerland, he looked like he’d never played football before in the quarter-final defeat against Morocco.

“Ramos should have been full of confidence but he looked half the player, it just didn’t make sense.

“Additionally, Benfica are also going to ask for silly money on the back of the World Cup.

“Top target Mykhaylo Mudryk from Shakhtar Donetsk looks a good player but again, he’s a winger and Arsenal need a striker.”

Arsenal’s only defeat this season came against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

They were due to play champions Manchester City in October, however, the game was postponed and they will now lock horns in February and April.

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