In Focus: In-form Jesus primed to be Arsenal’s saviour
Gabriel Jesus’ hat-trick against Sevilla took his pre-season goal tally to seven — leaving Arsenal fans around the globe licking their lips.
The former Manchester City star swapped the Etihad for the Emirates this summer in a £45million move, desperate to prove himself as an out-and-out centre forward once and for all.
Ahead of Arsenal’s season-opening clash at Crystal Palace on Friday night, we consider how the 25-year-old may fare in North London this term.
Point to prove
Despite netting a more than respectable 95 goals in 233 appearances for the Citizens, Jesus’ natural goalscoring ability has frequently been a topic of debate.
Though Pep Guardiola was never shy about heaping praise on his former No9, the fact that 85 of his appearances in Manchester came from the bench shows he was far from a nailed-on starter.
Furthermore, the Catalan tactician frequently deployed the Brazilian out wide rather than in his preferred central berth, even opting to use no striker at all for most of the last campaign.
After Jesus netted four goals against Watford in April — a game he started through the middle — Guardiola said: "When you behave like him, life and football rewards you.
"He doesn't need to score four goals for me to know he has this incredible ability. He will have a long and successful career."
And yet, 10 weeks later, his exit was confirmed.
The main attraction behind the switch to Arsenal was being given a chance to shine as a team’s chief goal threat — something that Guardiola, for all his kind words, was unable to offer.
A few weeks into Jesus’ Gunners career and the early signs are encouraging to say the least.
Just 90 seconds into his first friendly appearance against Nurnberg, the Selecao star had smashed a fierce drive beyond the opposition keeper before doubling his tally via a clever flick half an hour later.
Against Everton, he popped up at the back post to beautifully touch down and drive home a corner. Seven days later, he was effortlessly lobbing Chelsea keeper Edouard Mendy from a tight angle.
If those first four strikes documented a player blessed with great technical ability, his Sevilla showing provided a masterful display of poacher’s instinct.
All three of the forward’s strikes on his Emirates bow came from inside the six-yard box, reacting quickest to loose balls and timing runs to perfection.
Even if they will not make too many highlight reels, such goals are bound to give Jesus — and his new boss Mikel Arteta — sweet satisfaction.
Despite missing out on fourth place to bitter rivals Tottenham last term, Arsenal enjoyed a positive 2021-22 campaign.
The Gunners played plenty of attractive and exciting football, with academy graduates Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe managing 21 Premier League goals between them.
However, what arguably proved the costliest factor in their pursuit of Champions League qualification was the lack of a prolific striker in their ranks.
Between them, Eddie Nketiah, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang found the net only 13 times in 65 top-flight appearances, leaving boss Arteta woefully short in comparison to other top sides.
In fact, only Wolves, Norwich, Burnley and Leeds had a poorer return from their strikers, while a paltry 27 big chances scored trailed the likes of Brentford and Crystal Palace.
His hope will be that Jesus can drastically improve those tallies this season.
More than goals
At City, Jesus was judged on his overall contribution — but with Arsenal his goal return will be under far more intense scrutiny.
Perhaps in a bid to relieve some of that burden, Arteta made a point of praising his new No9’s all-round game after his Sevilla hat-trick.
Arteta said: "Gabby’s versatility is well known. Now we are using him as a nine, but he can play as a winger, off the left and the right.
"You can also play with two strikers as we have done in pre-season as well and change the shape a little bit. He gives us a lot of flexibility."
Last season, the Sao Paulo native had as many Premier League assists (eight) than he did goals (eight), while his 1.82 chances created per 90 minutes ranked him among the division’s best providers.
It should not be forgotten what else he can add to a team alongside his goal threat.
Time to shine
Even if Arteta does not want to go public on the need for his new man to net frequently, Jesus himself has no issues doing so.
In his first interview as a Gunner, he was unequivocal when quizzed on his preferred role, stating: "I’m a No9.
"I’m a striker and I thank God every day that I can be alive, and that I can play in three or four different positions — but I think my position is nine.
"Of course, I’m a striker and I have to score, so I’ve come to score goals and also to help with assists and my work. But obviously, I want to score goals."
If pre-season is anything to go by, he will have little issue being true to his word.