The Eupen forward has enjoyed a breakthrough season in Belgium – so should Arsenal fans be excited at the prospect of him moving to the Emirates?
Henry Onyekuru ‘s invitation to the Super Eagles was long overdue. There had been some incredulity at his absence from the initial squad named by Gernot Rohr, and even now he is only in by virtue of the unavailability of striker Olarenwaju Kayode for the friendlies against Corsica and Togo.
Not that it matters how he got in, only that he has, and finally he has the chance to showcase his abilities to the coaching crew. They are considerable, as his output with modest Eupen no doubt attests: 24 goals and nine assists in 41 games across all competitions are eye-catching numbers for one so young.
You can interpret it either of two ways, based on the standing of the Belgian league and Eupen. He may well be a big fish in a small pond, which might explain the initial reluctance to call him up (though to be a big fish anywhere at all at 19 is probably not the worst thing in the world); or his excellence may be demonstrative of his ability to do even better at a higher level.
With Arsenal reportedly closing in on a transfer this summer, we certainly will find out soon enough. Admittedly, the peculiarities of the English top-flight do lend themselves to his talents: Onyekuru is rapid from a standing start, boasting superb acceleration, and is unerringly direct.
While he can play all across the front line, he favours the left as it gives him the space he needs to go through the gears, as well as come inside on his stronger right foot. He will usually receive the ball deeper and wider, and try to roar past his marker on the outside, before then cutting across him to get goalside. This means he cannot be stopped without recourse to a foul.
His low centre of gravity (he stands at about 5ft 9in) enables quick changes of direction, but his dribbling style really isn’t defined by it, unlike most players his size. He does have good close control, but relies more on his speed and trickery, often looking like he has shown too much to the opponent before snatching it away. Perhaps it is to do with the fact he runs and dribbles with a straight stance, not hunching – he looks bigger than he is, and dribbles like a taller player.
Iheanacho 20, Iwobi 21, Onyekuru 19, Ndidi 20, Simon 21, Aina 20…If I was a true Nigerian I’d be getting pretty excited right about now!
— Ed Dove (@EddyDove) May 23, 2017
In front of goal, Onyekuru is an improviser. He possesses good movement, especially when he has to spin in behind a full-back; he is often up and away before they even know it. When through, he can finish in a number of ways; though, like most speedsters, he seems to enjoy going past the goalkeeper. That doesn’t preclude dinks, curled finishes in the manner of his idol and namesake Thierry Henry, and even a pirouette (he didn’t score with that one, but he did win a penalty).
There is a lot to admire about him, but he is still a teenager, so there are a lot of areas where he can improve. That is only natural. His aptitude for the defensive side of the game, as well as his decision-making, are still undeveloped (the latter especially).
A move to Arsenal could be beneficial, although it would represent a big step up for a teenager who’s yet to taste competitive football outside Belgium. How many players have made that kind of leap…let alone to do it successfully?
Onyekuru right to seek move away, but if it’s the @premierleague he has designs on, he might be better served staying at Eupen!
— Solace Chukwu (@TheOddSolace) May 22, 2017
Perhaps the biggest weakness in Onyekuru’s game is a streak of single-mindedness. It can manifest as overconfidence or as selfishness, but too often he wants to go alone. He will often get the better of his marker, and opt for a shot from an angle rather than lay in a teammate in a better position centrally.
This selfishness has also been apparent off the pitch when he went on strike in January after claiming that Eupen had broken promises to sell him in the transfer window that month.
Nevertheless, there is plenty for Arsenal fans to be excited about and the player himself has been very public about his love for Arsene Wenger’s team. “The shirt I dream of wearing is Arsenal’s because I’ve always had Thierry Henry as a role model since I was little,” he states.
And the prospect of a link up with Rohr’s attacking prodigies for Nigeria is also uber-appealing; one need only think what a front four including him, Isaac Success, Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho could get up to.
The future has snuck up on us all, much like Onyekuru himself!