If you asked any Ghanaian after the AFCON 2021, if they believed the Black Stars would be at the Qatar 2022 World Cup, chances are the answer would’ve been in the negative. However, here we are four months later, and Ghana is gearing up for her return to the global stage, after sealing qualification against all odds. Despite that impressive display in the playoff against rivals Nigeria, the Black Stars are still a long way from being ready for the World Cup. A group comprising Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, Uruguay and South Korea will need a certain level of excellence to overcome, making the task all the more difficult for the four-time African champions.
In attempting to achieve excellence, you need quality, and the future of the Black Stars looks bright in that regard. The likes of Premier League-based Mohammed Salisu, Tariq Lamptey, Eddie Nketiah and Callum Hudson-Odoi including La Liga star Inaki Williams have all been mentioned as having a strong chance of being part of the Black Stars setup for Qatar. That said, the influx of quality must address problems and improve the team, not just for clout. The emergence of Eddie Nketiah and Inaki Williams has particularly got Ghanaians excited due to the seeming goalscoring problem the Black Stars are facing. But how much will their inclusion fix that problem?
Goals are the most important currency in the game. Without goals, you can’t win football games, and the Black Stars have struggled for goals in recent times. 16 goals in 16 games – an average of a goal a game, doesn’t particularly strike as a team that possesses the capacity to challenge for championships. To put it rather bluntly; without keeping a clean sheet, it’s almost impossible for the Black Stars can win football games. Let’s narrow in on Otto Addo’s time as Black Stars head coach – after all, he will be in charge in Qatar. Ghana has scored six goals in his six games in charge, indicating no major improvement in an attacking sense since he took over.
Ajax and Barcelona legend Johan Cruyff famously said; “You can’t score if you don’t shoot,” and the Black Stars aren’t impressive in that department. In Otto Addo’s first four competitive games in charge, the Black Stars have managed an average of 12.5 shots per game, with only a paltry 2.25 of them on target per 90 minutes (17.25%). This means the team is hardly taking any shots, and when they do, 82.75% of those shots are off target – an appalling statistic. The six goals Ghana have recorded during the time in charge have also come through five different scorers, from different positions/roles, with only two from centre forwards. Ghana clearly needs a goalscorer, but which of the incoming flock can provide a lasting solution to the team’s goalscoring needs?
Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah finished the 2021/2022 season with five goals to his name – however context is important. The 23-year-old started just eight times for the Gunners making 13 substitute appearances, which make those numbers impressive. His overall xG, ie, the number of goals he was expected to score, measured by the profile of chances he had, was 4.99. So basically, he was as prolific as it gets, and prolific is exactly the type of centre forward Ghana needs -someone with a high conversion rate to execute the very few opportunities the team creates. Nketiah, should he be included in the Black Stars setup, will find himself in a similar context as his club side Arsenal, who isn’t the Premier League’s most creative side. The Gunners who finished 5th in the Premier League, created the 4th least big chances last season (39) – only more than Norwich (20th), Everton (16th) and Newcastle (11th).
This stressed the need for Arsenal forwards to be as efficient as possible, and that is reflected in the Gunners’ front four of Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, Martin Odegaard and Eddie Nketiah all out scoring their season xG. Per these metrics, it’s fair to say, efficiency is the name of Nketiah’s game. Nketiah recorded an average of 3.02 shots per 90 minutes with a return of 1.29 shots on target per 90 minutes, the highest of any Arsenal player last season, and ranks in the 77th percentile among forwards in Europe’s top 5 leagues. Ghana will be getting a forward who isn’t afraid to take shots – not one who just shoots for the sake of it but produces a high level of accuracy also.
Building from the back is an essential part of how teams plan their attacking sequences. This has led to forwards needing to do their fair share of defensive work in order to stop the opposition from creating dangerous scenarios by emerging from their defensive third.
Nketiah’s defensive stats, hence, proves how much of a nuisance he is to opposition attacking build-ups. With his 19.19 pressures per 90 minutes, Nketiah ranks in the 87th percentile among forwards in the top 5 European leagues. The highlight of his relentless pressing was evident in Arsenal’s opening goal against Leeds United, where he forced a mistake from Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier, before finishing into an open goal.
His willingness to press, coupled with his good tackling ability makes him a nightmare for ball-playing defenders. Nketiah will swarm with pressure until you wilt.
Arsenal’s new No. 14 still has his international future in the balance, but he provides the perfect ingredient to take the Black Stars to the next level. Qatar 2022 presents a different kind of test for Ghana and Nketiah looks like the missing piece in Otto Addo’s attacking puzzle. The 23-year-old is just a call away – so over to you, Otto.