Eddie Nketiah says it was “impossible to leave” Arsenal once he had assurances about game time from manager Mikel Arteta.
The Gunners confirmed at the weekend that the 23-year-old had signed a new long-term contract ending months of speculation about his future.
A peripheral figure during the first half of the 21/22 campaign, Nketiah looked destined to leave the club on a free transfer as he grew increasingly frustrated at his lack of game time. However, towards the tail-end of the season, things started to change for the striker.
With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out of the picture and Alex Lacazette’s powers on the wane, he finally got a run of games in the side that proved enough for him to rethink his next move.
Speaking to The Telegraph in his first interview since committing his future to Arsenal, Nketiah reflected:
“Everyone knows how much I love Arsenal. I have come through the academy, I have an attachment with the club. The manager was very supportive and pushed a lot for me to stay.
“Once I had those kinds of assurances, and no doubts that I will get opportunities to play next season, it was almost impossible for me to leave.
“That run [of matches] really helped me. It gave me the feeling I always wanted, that I have craved. That feeling of playing well, doing well, scoring. It helped me with my decision and made it a lot clearer. Experiencing that with my family, we knew this is the place to be. There is nothing quite like doing well for the club you support and love.”
As things stand, Nketiah is the number one candidate to lead the line when the Gunners line up against Crystal Palace on the opening day of the season. That said, if Arteta is successful in his pursuit of Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus, that could change.
Nketiah says he’s ready to go head-to-head with whoever is recruited to bolster the attack.
“Every team needs a squad to compete. The club is always looking for ways to strengthen. They have extended my deal and they have done so for a reason. Whoever comes in, you relish the challenge. You make them feel welcome, and then you fight and compete.”
The striker also touched on what he’s been doing to take his game to the next level.
“I have put in a lot of work on my strength and power,” he said. “The stronger I have got, it has allowed me to showcase the skills I have always had. It allows you to compete, to do the things you know you can do. Some people come into the first-team and physically they are fine straight away. But for other people it’s different.”
He continued: “I have worked a lot with the manager on playing with my back to goal, on the spaces to drop into and link play. Of course it has been developed. But at the same time you don’t get here by just standing in the penalty box and scoring a goal.
“People are always going to say things, but I know what I can do. The people that have played with me, played against me, the coaches that have worked with me, I know how they feel about me.”
Having had a few weeks off to rest and recuperate, Nketiah will return for pre-season training next week. It’ll be the first in a while where there’s not been a question mark over his future allowing him to fully focus on staking his claim for more regular game time.
“I know I am not the finished article, and I don’t need to be the finished article right now,” he said.
“I have time to improve and to make mistakes. But I do have belief in myself that if I am given a run, and I play the games, I can deliver. I know I still have so much more to give and so much more to do.”