Mikel Arteta signed as a central striker for the first time in his three-year career as Arsenal manager. He did not have to search long to locate the one he desired. He returned to his previous club, Manchester City, where he was Pep Guardiola’s assistant manager, to recruit Gabriel Jesus in a £45 million move.
The Brazilian international has agreed to a five-year deal at Emirates Stadium and will wear the No. 9 shirt. By any fair standard, he is the man for Arsenal. He may have been sought after elsewhere. But Mikel Arteta and Edu have laid the basis for the transaction, initially discussing the possibility of bringing Jesus from the City early in the new year.
“We talked about the club, the players, the project, and the future a couple of times,” Jesus stated after signing. “I have complete faith in Mikel.” I had a great experience with him. He’s a great man and a fantastic instructor.
“He greatly assisted me [at Manchester City].” After training, we’d always remain together and do some finishing. He’s a highly clever man who was a fantastic player, so if he knows anything, he can teach the younger guys or me.”
Mikel Arteta may be playing things safe by returning to what he knows. And to some extent, he is. Jesus is a well-known entity, but Arsenal’s interest came after what scouts and agents told CBS Sports is one of Europe’s most exhaustive scouting operations.
In-person scouting and background checks on several targets, including Victor Osimhen, Alexander Isak, and Dusan Vlahovic, started well over a year ago and lasted until the last games of the 2021-22 season. The Serbian was the one who came the closest to convincing Arsenal to go elsewhere. Still, despite all the rumours of January offers, Arsenal had determined that the then-Fiorentina striker did not desire them by the time 2022 rolled around.
Jesus had none of these problems. There was a clear vision for the 25-year-old Premier League champion’s job in north London. Even a cursory scan at the roster after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was allowed to depart for nothing revealed that Jesus could be guaranteed regular playing time.
World Cup is on the horizon, and none of Tite’s mid-range choices seems certain to start in Qatar. Arsenal has the trump card of guaranteed minutes in Europe’s most competitive league.
It had been a long time since they had seen Jesus, and the entrance of Erling Haaland was going to make it even more difficult.
The main role is available at Arsenal. The new striker has been the looming transfer over Arsenal for more than a year, the missing piece of an ambitious and costly makeover. Mikel Arteta readily admits that his team is considerably hampered without such a guy.
When asked what his main priorities in any new forward were in March, he stated, “He puts the ball in the net. That’s priority number one.” “There’s a goal threat. A strong goal threat is essential for every successful team. You have nothing without it. You may play terrific football, but your squad lacks a goal threat.”
The arrival of Jesus will bring goals, but it will also raise issues for his new management. Mikel Arteta can imprint his mark on Arsenal’s culture, energise dressing rooms, and develop young players. The central issue of his career has been what he has gotten from his centre forward. Since Christmas 2019, when they installed their rookie head coach, the Gunners have mostly been a goal-shy club.
It averaged approximately one and a half league goals per game in a period when Manchester City averaged 2.4, Liverpool 2.1, Manchester United and Chelsea both 1.8. Their scoring recovery was the eighth-best in a sample of 96 games. Their Premier League success was built entirely on a strengthened defence.
Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal demonstrated in 2021-22 that they could generate more opportunities and score more goals. But not from the elite centre strikers with whom they began the season, both of whom cost somewhat more than the club has paid Jesus. Throughout Mikel Arteta’s tenure, both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (22 non-penalty goals) and Alexandre Lacazette (17 non-penalty goals) failed to hit the back of the net. The former dropped off a cliff because his new boss constantly altered his position or lost the desire after signing his massive new deal, depending on who you ask.
The answer felt obvious for Lacazette. The Frenchman had been hired as the club’s flagship striker half a season before a panicked Arsenal rushed for Aubameyang. He had spent so much time attempting to form partnerships with others around him. Towards the conclusion of his time in north London, he appeared unable to go into the box and take shots. Whether it’s due to poor squad construction, the players themselves, Mikel Arteta’s management, or a combination of the three, the Gunners’ frontline clearly wasn’t working last season. That was clear on the final day when Eddie Nketiah became the season’s leading scorer. He’d discovered the net five times.
The teenager shows glimpses of being able to execute a little bit of everything Arteta expects from his strikers. They must be able to assist in ball recovery, and build-up play like Lacazette did. However, it is only a prelude to attacking the penalty area with the accuracy of Aubameyang in his prime.
That is what Jesus promised to be. During the 2020-21 season, when he predominantly played as a centre forward for Guardiola, he placed in the 99th percentile among attackers in terms of progressive passes received, averaging 0.15 predicted assists per 90 minutes. According to his now-former City manager, the “greatest [striker] in the world” at gaining the ball back, he can do much with it.
Then there’s the shooting. Only Sergio Aguero and Cristiano Ronaldo have averaged more anticipated goals (xG) per 90 Premier League minutes since the beginning of the 2017-18 season than Jesus’ 0.66. Subtract last season, when he was more commonly used as a winger, and the figure jumps to 0.7. It places them in the top ten in Europe.
One may argue that given Manchester City’s supply line behind him, he should rank high in xG. And, unlike Sergio Aguero, Erling Haaland, or Robert Lewandowski, he does not outperform the quality of his shots. In layman’s terms, a good striker receives many good shooting opportunities and performs on par. The very best should slightly outperform their xG. Jesus has 49 non-penalty goals and nearly 60 non-penalty xG in the previous five Premier League seasons.
There are plenty of missed sitters in his career. Still, many of them result from Jesus’ natural penalty box talents. Consider this exquisite display of control with his back to goal to score the game-winning goal against Chelsea earlier this season. There are another example of perhaps even more impressive quick feet against West Ham later in the campaign.
Jesus’ off-the-ball abilities were displayed in the second of four goals he scored against Watford in a 5-1 triumph last season. The run itself isn’t noteworthy, but the timing is impeccable. As the ball is sent to Kevin De Bruyne on the City’s right, visiting centre-back, Samir is gazing at Jesus, who appears to pose little threat. The Brazilian then makes his move, slithering around the back of Christian Kabasele and into space as Raheem Sterling rushes across the eyelines of the Watford defence.
Two seconds later, he’s flicking home De Bruyne’s cross, having discovered a sizable attacking seam.
How often will Arsenal create opportunities like these for him? They improved as a creative force in the second part of last season and have many creative skills. But, they lacked the mixture of superstars Manchester City had to feed its attack with. With club and country, Jesus had only been seen through the lens of what he contributes whilst playing with some of the world’s finest players.
Jesus may have worn the No. 9 shirt, but compared to De Bruyne, Sterling, and Neymar, the spotlight does not beam as brightly as it should. He’s never had to be the star, the player in whom hopes and expectations are placed. That is changing now.
Here is the player the Emirates Stadium has been waiting for, the player that the Mikel Arteta project has been working towards for three years. He is no longer a cog. He is the crown gem of Arsenal. That may convince him, or it may break him.