Arsenal have been in desperate need for a competent striker for some time. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was once the star striker for the Gunners, but declined in form once he signed a new long term contract for the club in 2020. Things went from bad to worse when Aubameyang frequently turned up late to training sessions and manager Mikel Arteta decided to revoke his captaincy. The disgraced forward left Arsenal in January 2022, signing for FC Barcelona.
This left Alexandre Lacazette to lead the line for the Gunners, but he was frequently unable to find his goal scoring touch. When the team needed him, Lacazette could not find the back of the net, and went 20 hours without scoring during Arsenal’s crucial run in. They narrowly missed out on a Champions League place, largely due to not having a striker who could be clinical when needed. At the end of the season, Lacazette departed on a free transfer to Lyon. Going into the summer, it was clear that Arsenal needed a clinical striker to take the team’s standards to the next level and to battle amongst the league’s elite teams.
Enter Gabriel Jesus. After enjoying a glorious few seasons at Manchester City, winning nine trophies in total, the Brazilian made it clear to City’s board that he wanted a new challenge. The transfer was completed in early July with Arsenal signing the striker for £45m, a fee that already looks like a bargain for such a talented player.
Still only 25 years old, Gabriel Jesus is about to enter his ‘prime years’ at Arsenal. He could have most likely enjoyed more success at Manchester City, but instead the Brazilian has given rise to a new challenge and he has more than enough talent to take Arteta’s Arsenal to glory; heights they have not seen since Arsene Wenger was at his managerial peak. Jesus saw an opportunity to become the main man for a team and he has taken it. Although Arsenal have only played 4 Premier League games so far at the time of writing, it is clear that Gabriel Jesus is already transforming Arsenal, and he will continue to do so.
One could only take a brief look at Gabriel Jesus' attacking metrics to see how he would improve on Lacazette’s attacking input. Last season, Jesus scored 8 goals in the Premier League compared to Lacazette’s 4 goal tally. Whilst Gabriel Jesus was playing in a superior team at Manchester City, he was performing consistently better in front of goal, converting more chances and taking on more shots. A team’s talent does not have an effect on whether a striker can be clinical in front of goal, and Jesus consistently showed he could find the back of the net. The Brazilian averaged 0.38 goals per 90 last season compared to Lacazette’s average of 0.2, scoring important goals during Manchester City’s title run that saw them retain the league title.
Gabriel Jesus is also an exciting striker because of his agileness and his ability to evade defenders with his rapid pace. He frequently illustrated this at Manchester City, and he has already begun showing this at Arsenal, with the Brazilian dribbling past multiple Leicester City players before placing a clever finish into the top right corner of the net, during the 23rd minute. It was a bold statement from the new signing during his debut in front of the Emirates home crowd, and the movement was Thierry Henry-esque.
Jesus conducted something similar in the following game against Bournemouth. Starting from the middle of the pitch, he brushed past three Bournemouth defenders with his precise footwork and dribbling, before passing to Gabriel Martinelli. Jesus’ Brazilian teammate forced a save from the Bournemouth keeper, which deflected into midfielder Odegaard’s path, who took the opportunity to find the back of the net for Arsenal’s first goal. Jesus will not be credited in the statistics for this movement of play, but without his innovative dribbling, Arsenal would not have had the chance. During his time in the Premier League, the Brazilian has a 68% dribbling success rate, which puts him ahead of many attackers within the top flight. He attempted 61 dribbles compared to Lacazette’s much smaller total of 30 last season.
The difference in movement and touches between Gabriel Jesus and Alexandre Lacazette can be seen when you compare their home games against Leicester. Jesus this season had far more influence in the box for Arsenal, frequently getting into good positions and helping his team in attack, with 15 touches in the box against The Foxes in total. The Brazilian striker also scored two spectacular goals for the Gunners, and provided assists for two more, with the score ending in a 4-2 victory for Arsenal. Involved in all of the goals scored, there is no doubt that Jesus produced a world class display, in the end helping his team ease to victory. Although Arsenal won the same game 2-0 last season, Lacazette did not have the same commanding influence. This is demonstrated most clearly with the players' respective heat maps, with Jesus evidently influencing attacking play substantially more.
Predictably then, looking at chance creation for Gabriel Jesus and Alexandre Lacazette demonstrates a significant gulf in quality. Jesus’ intelligent passing on the ball and clever runs off the ball overall means that he will be able to create more chances for Arsenal than Lacazette did last season. On average, Jesus averaged 5.68 progressive carries of the ball per 90 last season, with his numbers matching the best creative players across the league. The Brazilian also averaged a higher expected goal and assist ratio across last season at 0.74, which is higher than Lacazette’s average of 0.50.
A complete performance that demonstrated Gabriel Jesus’ creative qualities is Manchester City’s game against Liverpool at the Etihad. It is important to remember the context of this match up which occurred in April. City and Liverpool were in an intense battle for the Premier League title, and whoever emerged victorious from this game would be viewed as favourites to win the league. The game eventually concluded with a 2-2 draw, but Gabriel Jesus was one of the best players on the pitch. He scored the 2nd goal for City with a spectacular finish, and consistently caused problems for Liverpool’s defensive line. Jesus was able to create chances for his teammates with intelligent passes into space, and he used his brilliant dribbling to ease past players. In undoubtedly one of the biggest games of the Premier League season that year, Jesus proved that he could lead the line and produce a performance that massively helped his team.
Arteta overall has started to successfully impose a style of play on his young Arsenal side, with a consistent feature within his attacking set up being the striker dropping back and creating space for the wider players. Lacazette performed this role last season for Arsenal, and Jesus has the skills needed to fulfil this role. In his 19/20 season for Manchester City, which many regard as his best football season so far, the Brazilian played as a striker and frequently dropped back into midfield for City. He was then able to demonstrate his intelligent link up play and produce progressive passes with the midfielders around him.
Arteta also plays with a front five, the same style of play as Guardiola at City, and therefore Jesus should be able to quickly slot into the attacking set up and know what is required of him. His ability to feel comfortable on the attacking flanks could inspire progressive pass interchanges between wingers Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka, allowing them chances in the middle of flank and being closer to the goal. Jesus won’t just improve Arsenal’s number of goals; he will also improve his teammates around him.
Gabriel Jesus also has a tireless work rate and is a master at the pressing game, which will enable him to slot perfectly into Arteta’s system. Arsenal like to employ an aggressive attacking strategy when they have the ball, pushing teams back and trying to force them into mistakes. Lacazette was able to press the opponent last season and was able to retain the ball, but the French forward lacked the ability to sustain a high level of intensity for 90 minutes. Jesus, meanwhile, has been credited by Pep Guardiola as “the best striker/defender I have found to play in three positions.” His pressing statistics demonstrate this. Jesus averages 3.43 pressures per 90, and 6.44 attacking pressures per 90 off the ball. City are a possession based side, so for Jesus’ pressing to be so high demonstrates his determination and how often he likes to press the opponent.
Another underrated factor that is overlooked by statistics within football is the power of mentality. Arsenal currently have the youngest average age of their starting 11 in the Premier League, with an average age of 25.2 years. The players will no doubt grow and develop, but it is also important to have an experienced voice within the dressing room who has tasted success. This can be found in any title winning team. Vincent Kompany, former captain of Manchester City, played a big part in Manchester City’s title winning 2018 and 2019 seasons, after winning the title with the club in 2012. James Milner won the same title in 2012 with the Citizens, and was an influence on the mentality of the dressing room when Liverpool won the league in 2020, for the first time in 30 years.
Arteta has already emphasised the impact Gabriel Jesus has had on the mentality within the squad, exclaiming that the striker has brought ‘hunger’ into the team and has ‘the capacity to show the emotion that he plays the game with.’ The fact that Gabriel Jesus has already been made Vice Captain of Arsenal should speak volumes in itself as to how the striker is influencing the dressing room.
Gabriel Jesus is also a player that has found renewed love for football now he has moved to Arteta’s Arsenal. Pep Guardiola last season chose to play Jesus on the right wing for Manchester City last season, with players such as Kevin De Bruyne in the ‘false nine’ position in the middle. The Brazilian striker still had an impressive campaign for Manchester City, scoring 8 goals in 21 starts for the club, but he has since explained his desire to play as a striker, which influenced his decision to move to Arsenal.
Brazil are one of the favourites to win the prestigious World Cup, and Gabriel Jesus will likely play a big part in attempting to lead his team to the title for the first time since 2002. This will be a crucial period in determining Arsenal’s season, and Gunners across the world will be hoping that Jesus does not suffer from an injury during the World Cup, which this year is awkwardly placed in the middle of the domestic season during December.
If Gabriel Jesus can maintain his fitness levels, Arsenal do not have just a new striker: they have a leader with world class ability, who is able to take control of a game and make something happen when his team desperately needs him. Arsenal have been lacking a striker with Jesus’ creativity, innovation and determination for quite some time, and his world class talent is another building block in Arteta’s quest to take his team to the very top of world football.