How Gabriel Jesus can transform Arsenal from top four challengers to Champions League regulars
It has been six seasons since Arsenal last played Champions league football. For context —Arsène Wenger was still in charge at the Emirates, Mikel Arteta was Pep Guardiola’s assistant at Manchester City and Bukayo Saka hadn’t even sat his GCSE exams.
That is simply too long for a club of Arsenal’s stature. Back in 2017, Alexandre Lacazette was brought in as the man to take the Gunners back into Europe’s elite competition, but a season’s best of 18 goals in all competitions did not justify the £50 million spent on the Frenchman.
Then came Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The charismatic Gabonese striker boasted an impressive 92 goals in 163 games but again, Arsenal couldn’t break into the top four. In fact, Arsenal recorded the club’s lowest Premier League finish since 1994-95 in the successive 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, finishing eighth place in both, lurking around the relegation places in the first half of the latter.
However, it would be unfair to pin all of the blame on Arsenal’s strike force as to why they haven’t qualified for Champions League football in over half a decade. A combination of poor management, lack of owner investment and players not up to the standards of Arsenal has limited the club recently, but under the stewardship of Mikel Arteta, the Gunners have become a more competitive force.
A finish of fifth place last season represented progress for the North-London side with young stars Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli flourishing under the Spaniard’s reign and becoming key members of this current Arsenal side.
Despite this, both Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah had Premier League goal tallies in single figures – Lacazette scoring just four with Nketiah adding five more in a late season cameo, racking up four of those goals against Chelsea and Manchester United in impressive wins.
Perhaps one difference between Arsenal and the teams around them was that rivals Tottenham had the services of Harry Kane to call upon, scoring 17 Premier League goals to pip Arsenal to the top four and even £100 million flop Romelu Lukaku was able to double Lacazette’s tally as Chelsea finished third.
The simple fact is Arsenal lacked the clinical edge needed to return to Europe’s elite competition and spurned their best opportunity in years to secure a top four finish, something the Premier League odds expect them to rectify this season.
Arsenal were clearly aware of this issue as earlier in the transfer window the Gunners pulled off a major coup by signing Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus.
The Brazilian had previously worked for Arteta when he was Guardiola’s right-hand man at City. Jesus had a fine end to last season scoring six goals in April, including four in the same match against a poor Watford where he also set up the only other City goal of the game. His pre-season has started in the same way, netting seven goals in six games, prompting many Arsenal fans into believing Jesus is the right man to take Arsenal forward.
The former Palmeiras man has already expressed his delight in signing for the Gunners with Jesus attracting interest from a number of top sides, including Chelsea, when he was at City but choosing Arsenal partly because of Arteta’s influence. This is not just a one-off case either. Former Man City and current Bayern Munich forward Leroy Sané has also said how much Arteta influenced his City career; as well as Oleksandr Zinchenko, who also made the switch from the Citizens to Arsenal this summer.
Over the course of preseason, we’ve seen Jesus occupy space as an out-and-out striker. And while Guardiola preferred to utilise him as a winger for most of last season, he still boasts a fine record with City. 95 goals in 238 games is a good output for a player largely on the fringes of the world-class City squad.
The Brazilian is also tipped by many to be a perfect fit into Arteta’s Arsenal system. A striker who can press and win the ball high up the pitch is exactly what Arsenal need and Jesus can also drop into a midfield or wide position to pick up and receive the ball that Lacazette did so well during his Gunners stint.
Arteta will also be keen to take some of the added pressure off young star Bukayo Saka, who was Arsenal’s top scorer last season and the main attacking outlet for this young Gunners side. The Brazilian can do just that with many fans tipping Jesus as Arsenal’s top scorer in the upcoming season.
The Spaniard will be keen to start the season well and not plummet to the bottom of the table with zero points after three games. Having a striker who is up to speed will help greatly in scoring goals and winning games, with Jesus needing to start quickly to ease the fears of many Arsenal fans who endured an emotional rollercoaster last season.