ARSENAL’s failure to cling on to fourth place as the 2021-22 Premier League season drew to a close will make Mikel Arteta’s summer recruitment more difficult, and their lack of Champions League football next season is already believed to be hampering the pursuit of their top transfer target.
But for Arsenal, Gabriel Jesus is worth fighting for.
The Brazilian striker is reportedly determined to leave Manchester City this summer. The Premier League champions’ acquisition of Norwegian superstar Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund means Jesus’ prospects at the Etihad would be limited were he to stay, confined either to a role coming off the bench or a starting spot on the right wing, while he would prefer to play centrally.
“We had talks with Arsenal about Gabriel Jesus,” the player’s agent, Marcelo Pettinati, told The Guardian in the final weeks of last season. “We like the project – it’s a possibility we’re discussing. There are six more clubs interested in Gabriel. He’s focused on the final games with Man City. We’ll see.”
That, though, was when the Gunners still held out hope of a top-four finish. Now, with only Europa League football to offer the former Palmeiras striker, Jesus reportedly favours a move to Real Madrid, with the European champions’ manager Carlo Ancelotti believed to have personally signed off on a move for the City striker.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) January 19, 2022
But Madrid are lining up Jesus for a role they’d earmarked for Kylian Mbappe before the French superstar elected to sign a new contract with Paris Saint-Germain. With Karim Benzema playing the best football of his career and elevating himself into Ballon d’Or-favourite status at the point of Los Blancos’ attack, Jesus would be stationed either as a back-up striker or winger at the Bernabeu, just as he would at the Etihad.
There is a central role awaiting him at the Emirates, though, and it’s one that would suit him perfectly.
A glance at Jesus’ goal record hardly justifies City’s supposed asking price of £51m, especially considering he is set to be out of contract next summer. Any deal for the 25-year-old will likely be a compromise on that figure, with Arsenal reportedly having tabled an offer of £42.5m.
But goal alone can’t explain Jesus’ true value.
“He can play in the three positions up front, and when we need players who can help a lot, he’s the best in the world,” City boss Pep Guardiola said recently of the versatile forward.
“[With him] we can be so aggressive, we can get extra rhythm for midfield players, can stay high.
“He’s a young player who was decisive in these years, he helped us a lot in these years.”
Arteta, of course, previously worked under Guardiola as his assistant manager, and the Arsenal boss will have a deep understanding of Jesus’ capabilities from that time.
The Brazilian is a dogged worker from the highest point of attack, pressuring opposition defenders in accordance with City’s pressing strategies and tirelessly darting around the final third to open up space for his colleagues.
In a role that echoes that of his compatriot Roberto Firmino at Liverpool, Jesus can drop deep to augment and link with the midfield and he can provide ammunition for wide players making outside-to-inside bursts from the flanks. His modest return of 13 all-competitions goals last term was almost matched by the 12 assists he provided.
And it was during the brief spell in which Alexandre Lacazette was doing similar work for Arsenal last season that the Gunners experienced their best form.
Lacazette delivered seven Premier League assists for Arsenal in 2021-22, all of which came within a nine-game stretch. The Frenchman also scored three of his four league goals during an 11-game run that encompasses this period. Arsenal won nine of those 11 games, slipping up only in a 2-1 defeat away to the eventual champions and a 0-0 draw with Burnley.
It is no coincidence that Bukayo Saka’s best form coincided with this spell. The 20-year-old England winger registered a career-high return of 11 Premier League goals last season. Six of them – plus three assists – came in this 11-game stretch.
Lacazette’s form didn’t last and he finished the season relegated to the substitutes’ bench. But the 31-year-old, who is set to return to Lyon when his contract expires later this month, demonstrated the blueprint for what Arsenal could achieve with Jesus as an unselfish facilitator at the heart of their attack.