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After a sour end to the 2021/22 season that saw Arsenal pipped to a UEFA Champions League spot by bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur, the shift at the Emirates Stadium has almost exclusively centred itself around the club’s plans to return to the promised land of European football.
Despite inspiring many with the progress made, the pressure remains beside Mikel Arteta and his technical director Edu Gaspar, who will now, a lot sooner rather than later, be braced with the challenge of infiltrating the top four come next season.
Meanwhile the fault lines of Arsenal’s failure drift in multiple directions, and the lack of a quality goal-grabbing centre-forward has stuck out like a sore thumb.
Naturally, this has seen the Gunners’ name associated with numerous attacking options, but the North Londoners have chosen to look no further than the £45-million-rated Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus.
But as the 25-year-old readies himself for a switch to the capital, joining Arteta and Arsenal’s growing Brazilian contingent, questions regarding his suitability for the centre forward role follow Jesus with close proximity.
Could he be the man to help bridge the gap between Arsenal and the top, or are we looking at another error in casting from the club’s hierarchy?
At face value, it’s easy to see just why the Gunners have placed all their chips on the Brazilian, also eyed by Chelsea and Spurs.
In six-and-a-half years of Premier League football, Jesus, despite never being an undisputed starter for Pep Guardiola, was firmly present in the four title-winning campaigns he accumulated in the sky blue of Man City.
The ex-Palmeiras man clocks out at the Etihad with 95 goals in 236 appearances in all competitions, respectfully averaging a goal every 150 minutes.
Hailing from Arteta’s former club with a wealth of knowledge, Jesus knows all too well about the system the Spaniard is trying to mimic at the Emirates Stadium, which would’ve undoubtedly stood as a big pro when evaluating his signing.
His overall quality has never been in question, but his suitability to the standalone striker role has.
Having never scored more than 14 league goals for the goal-hungry Citizens in a league season, the core stats don’t exactly position himself to provide what the Gunners missed out on over the past campaign.
When former teammate Sérgio Agüero was out injured, his manager Guardiola, inventive in the Argentine’s absence, would constantly refer to the fact he had no strikers at his disposal, even with a fully-fit Jesus sat on the sidelines.
Once Agüero moved on, the City manager continued to toy with the false-nine look, rather than handing Jesus the outright recognition of being the club’s centre forward.
As a consequence, in the 2021/22 Premier League season, the Brazilian claimed just eight league goals from 28 appearances, with just under half of those games seeing the City man operate from the flanks.
The identity crisis extends itself to the international stage too after a much-maligned 2018 World Cup campaign in Russia.
Jesus failed to register a single goal leading the line for Brazil in the tournament, adding just seven to his tally from the same position in the last four years.
South American football correspondent Tim Vickery recalls an episode, live on TalkSPORT, that outlined just how severe the forward’s conundrum is, revealing a conversation held between the player and his national head coach, Tite.
Vickery states: “The low point of his career was the (2018) World Cup."
“I spoke with the Brazil coach about Gabriel Jesus not that long ago and he said that after the World Cup he called him over and asked him, ‘Where do you want to play?’
“Gabriel Jesus said, ‘I don’t mind’, but the coach said, ‘Obviously you mind, you obviously have a preference, what is your preference?’
“And, somewhat sheepishly, Gabriel Jesus said he’d rather play out wide. This is important for whoever is going to buy him.”
In Arteta, the City man prepares himself for a nice trip down memory lane - to a time where the then young teen drew similarities with the great Ronaldo Fenomeno, noted by the iconic number nine himself.
Meanwhile, there’s lots of transferable skills the São Paulo-born man can bring over from the Etihad, he’ll also be hoping, at the grand age of 25, that his new manager can set him through his peak years and aid the transition as a dependable forward.
And Jesus certainly has scope!
Accumulating 20 career Champions League goals in 38 appearances, 18 of those have seen the Brazilian net from a centre-forward position.
For the national team, given the array of options on both flanks, Jesus has been deployed as a striker in seven out of his last nine appearances and it is via the centre that the former Palmeiras man is likely to remain, should he want to feature heavily at the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
Jesus will be tasked with hitting the ground running at Arsenal, themselves desperate for goals.
His velocity off the mark is sure to appeal when leading from the front, both on the press and in the exploitation of space behind backlines.
The forward’s movement also offers the prospect of rhythmic interchanging with the flanks, meshing with the appetite to get into goal-scoring positions from Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli.
There’s also lots to be said about the striker’s growing presence inside the area too, demonstrating the capability to hold off and overcome his opponents when called upon.
Stylistically, Jesus is evolving and Arteta, quick to renew terms with a similar profile in Eddie Nketiah, perhaps senses that.
The Gunners should be confident and very pleased with their capture, but they’ll have to be wary of the burden placed on Jesus for goals, particularly with his confidence’s susceptibility to being fractured.
As the famous saying goes, ‘there are different horses for different courses’ and it would’ve been wise on Arsenal’s behalf to equip themselves with a striker who could differ from the profile presented by Nketiah and the Man City star.
The competitors possess it - Jesus’ successor comes in the form of Erling Haaland, meanwhile, Liverpool will be hoping to rival the former Borussia Dortmund man, as well as Tottenham’s Harry Kane, with Darwin Núñez.
Despite flirting with similar builds, such as Gianluca Scamacca and Victor Osimhen, the premium value attached to such signings has been less than inviting for Edu and co.
Every possible avenue in the market would’ve been laced with risk and that’s what’s important to remember when scrutinising Arsenal’s summer ventures.
Arteta has reacted by going for the tried and tested in Jesus and Nketiah, capable of providing sustainable success
All eyes are now on what the fresh-faced manager can build around the two frontrunners, who’ll require the assistance to alter the fortunes in attack.
Featured Image Credit: Alamy
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