Jesus is coming! But will the Brazilian striker resurrect Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal?
He showed just about enough during five-and-a-half seasons with Manchester City to suggest he will bring something for the Gunners’ sizeable £50million outlay.
The common argument from his supporters is that he would have flourished if only Pep Guardiola wasn’t the kind of manager who likes to rotate his team every week. More game time would have equated to more goals.
Arsenal are poised to splash out £50million on Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus – but will the Brazilian actually provide the firepower Mikel Arteta so desperately needs?
Arsenal boss Arteta was left praying for a clinical finisher as they missed out on the top four
But equally, there remain serious question marks over Jesus’s finishing ability, his best return in a Premier League campaign is just 14 goals and had he performed better there would have been no need to buy Erling Haaland.
The reality is Jesus never did become the 30-a-season goalscoring force City expected him to and he never adequately proved himself the successor of Sergio Aguero. Do we really expect him to be better at the Emirates?
Arsenal’s lack of firepower ultimately saw them miss out on Champions League football last season, with Bukayo Saka their leading scorer with 12 goals across all competitions and outright centre forward Eddie Nketiah only getting 10.
With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette gone, there was clearly a need to spend big on a new striker and Jesus is Arsenal’s choice.
As Sportsmail reported on Monday, the player’s agents have travelled to London to wrap up the deal with Arsenal splashing another huge chunk of their budget days after buying Fabio Vieira from Porto for £34m.
Eddie Nketiah (middle) is Arsenal’s other centre forward option, with Bukayo Saka (right) ending up as the club’s leading goalscorer last season
Arsenal goalscorers 2021-22
12 – Bukayo Saka
11 – Emile Smith Rowe
10 – Eddie Nketiah
7 – Martin Odegaard, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
6 – Alexandre Lacazette, Gabriel Martinelli
5 – Gabriel
Manchester City goalscorers 2021-22
24 – Riyad Mahrez
19 – Kevin De Bruyne
17 – Raheem Sterling
14 – Phil Foden
13 – Gabriel Jesus, Bernardo Silva
10 – Ilkay Gundogan
7 – Rodri
But the nagging doubts remain – is it enough? With the Europa League to juggle with domestic commitments next season, Arteta could still do with a third option to Jesus and Nketiah at the point of his attack.
That player should probably also offer him a clear difference in the attributes Jesus won’t be able to bring them. Prowess in the air, the ability to convert high crosses, a physical presence to hold the ball up.
Otherwise, Arsenal may not move forward. They scored just 61 Premier League goals last season, an improvement on their two previous campaigns but inadequate when compared to City’s 99, Liverpool’s 94, Chelsea’s 76 and even the 69 of Tottenham, who pipped them to fourth.
Pep Guardiola used Jesus sparingly at times, preferring to play with a false nine in games
Jesus showed enormous early promise at City but didn’t really fulfil it over six years there
It was a season of unquestionable progress for the Gunners, with Arteta building his team around an exciting young core and his ideas often coming to fruition, but they’re still a long way off being able to compete at the top.
Jesus isn’t going to bridge that gap alone. One telling stat is that since Jesus came to City, only Christian Benteke has a worse negative xG differential between actual goals scored and expected goals in the Premier League.
His big chance conversion percentage was a lowly 21.74 and 29.41 in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons respectively and his minutes per goal figures have got drastically worse in the last two seasons.
After scoring seven times in 10 matches after arriving in Manchester in January 2017, fuelling optimism he would be the next Brazilian wonderkid, Jesus has returned 13, seven, 14, nine and eight Premier League goals in the seasons since. Hardly mind-blowing.
|Season||Games played||Games started||Goals||Shooting accuracy %||Shot conversion %||Big chances scored||Big chances missed||Big chance conversion %||Mins/Goal|
His 13 goals across all games last season saw him behind Riyad Mahrez, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden in City’s list of top scorers and level with Bernardo Silva.
It all points to Jesus being unable to offer the killer instinct in front of goal that Arsenal desperately need and let’s not forget that he won’t get the same conveyor belt of chances he enjoyed at City.
Perhaps that will come with greater game time under Arteta. Guardiola isn’t afraid to send his team out without a recognised centre forward and the Premier League champions are no less effective for it.
It’s true Jesus was used sparingly in the Champions League last season, starting just three of City’s nine games, but he began 21 of the 34 Premier League matches he was available for and came on in seven others.
Mikel Arteta and Guardiola keep a close eye on Jesus in a City training session in 2018
The Arsenal manager is well aware of what Jesus could offer following his time at Man City
He scored far more frequently when he started for City than when subbed on – 152 minutes per goal compared to 248 – so maybe Arteta can unlock his very best by playing him every week.
We don’t yet know how Jesus will respond to being the main striker at a top club and taking the responsibility to settle tight contests. City always had alternatives and didn’t depend on him.
It’s also clear that Jesus knows how to get into good positions in front of goal, even if he doesn’t necessarily convert the chance, and Guardiola always admired his willingness to press the opposition with intensity.
That will also please Arteta, who it has been suggested is trying to turn Arsenal into a version of Guardiola’s City side having worked under Pep at the Etihad Stadium.
Jesus celebrates scoring against Real Madrid in City’s Champions League semi-final in April
Arsenal won’t have made this £50m outlay without a whole lot of consideration and due diligence on Jesus and the comparison of his record against that of other available strikers.
Arteta himself, of course, has an in-depth knowledge of what Jesus can bring from his time working with him in Manchester.
But there remain so many doubts about the 25-year-old and a feeling of potential so far unfulfilled, which seems madness for a player who has won four Premier League titles.
Arsenal could well find Jesus is the answer to their prayers as they try and crack the top four – but this promised land is far from guaranteed.