Football Features

Head Boy: Gabriel Jesus would be the perfect line-leader for Arsenal’s Young Guns

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 17:07, 20 June 2022 | Updated: 14:03, 21 September 2022

Arsenal do not have a No. 9.

That is to say, there is no one wearing the No. 9 shirt. The club recently renewed Eddie Nketiah’s contract and gave the striker the no. 14 shirt, a historic number at Arsenal for sure, but very pointedly not the No. 9.

It’s a clear hole in the side’s attack, which is otherwise numbered quite beautifully. Of the attacking players in Mikel Arteta’s 4-2-3-1, the Gunners can choose from Bukayo Saka wearing No. 7, Martin Odegaard wearing No. 8, Emile Smith Rowe wearing No. 10 and Gabriel Martinelli who was recently handed the No. 11 shirt. With the added burden of Europa League football you can expect to see squad rotation between these four for the three positions behind the striker, with Nketiah being the back-up striker.

But who starts up top? Who has the No. 9 shirt?

Arsenal tried to sign Dusan Vlahovic in January, and while that may have been a tad ambitious. it made sense. Vlahovic is not only a great goalscorer (and with him the Gunners surely would have sealed fourth), but at 22 is close in age to the rest of Arsenal’s young guns in attack.

Having missed out on the Serb, Arsenal’s attentions this summer have turned closer to home and Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus.

This move is kind of perfect, and not just because Arteta won two straight Premier League titles with Jesus at Manchester City, but because Jesus is almost everything Arsenal could want in a centre-forward.

He’s not a pure poacher, which would never work despite seeming to on paper. After he “signed the ting” Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang turned into a sort of goal poacher where if he didn’t score, he wasn’t much use at all. He’s back in pre “ting” form at Barcelona now but that year or so showed why a pure scorer isn’t what Arsenal need.

No, what Mikel Arteta needs is someone who understands the system, who understands pressing and also has a selfless streak in them. Sure, Arsenal definitely need someone to score goals but they also need someone who will still help Saka and Martinelli get their shots off. Both men have got goals in them (as does Smith Rowe to an extent) and with a No. 9 capable of playing team-mates in, both could bag between 10-15 league goals a season. Now you throw in a striker who hits 18-22 and Arsenal are a serious outfit.

Since the start of 2017/18 (i.e. his first full season in England) Jesus has scored 51 goals in the Premier League. That is 10th among all Premier League players in that time but notably, with the exception of Sergio Aguero (the minutes-per-goal king) all of the scorers above him have played at least 1,500 minutes more than the Brazilian.

Jesus’ goal tally per 90 minutes (among players with at least 3,300 minutes played) since his debut is 0.53, which is eighth among Premier League players. And this is despite him playing irregularly as Pep Guardiola rotated his remarkable squad, and sometimes playing wide-right or in a role not designed to be the key striker.

Yet he could always be relied upon, even against the biggest of opponents. His five goals against Liverpool is only bettered by eight against Everton and Watford. In the Champions League has has three goals in four games against Real Madrid and Manchester City have never not won or been winning against Los Blancos with him off the field (he was subbed off with the score at 0-1 in last season’s collapse).

Jesus’ goalscoring is not just timely, it’s also tactically what Arsenal need too. The Gunners like to work the ball into the box only to then not have a target to pass to or to simply fail to find that target. Every single one of Jesus’ 58 Premier League goals has come from inside the box. If Arsenal can work it in there (and we know they can) Jesus will be ready to strike.

But of course Jesus is not just a goalscorer. Along with his 51 goals he has 25 assists and 141 chances created, 25 of which were big chances. He’s also completed 184/275 take-ons and won possession in the attacking third 0.84 times per 90.

What’s funny is if you look at Jesus’ stat profile the player he most closely resembles, at least in terms of metrics, is Alexandre Lacazette, the man from whom he would inherit the No. 9 shirt at Arsenal.

Since the start of 2017/18 (when Lacazette joined the Gunners) the Frenchman has 54 goals, 25 assists, 142 chances created (21 big) and 144/230 take-ons completed. He’s played 10,309 minutes compared to Jesus’ 8,656, but the similarity in their production should show Arsenal fans exactly where he fits in.

Jesus is Lacazette, but younger, hungrier and still with more room to grow, to become more prolific and impactful. And what’s more, the crucial thing Jesus brings to the table? Titles.

The Brazilian has won 10 titles with Manchester City to go with three with Brazil and two with Palmeiras, but the ones that will interest Arsenal the most are the Serie A title won in 2016 and the four Premier League titles in the last five years.

The Gunners are a young side, especially in attack. Saka is 20, Martinelli and Smith Rowe are 21 while Odegaard is 23. Jesus is a dream because while he isn’t young, at 25 he’s entering the prime of his career and with his title-winning experience becomes an ideal line-leader for these young guns. Close enough to their age to be a peer but older by enough to be an example. More of a Head Boy than a Head Teacher, an inspiration and a leader on and off the field.

Even the shirt number is perfect. Not just because it’s the 9 and he’s the striker, but also because it would put him right in the middle of Arsenal’s fab five forwards. A quintet of quality all lined up together on squad pages and team line-ups that still order players by shirt number for some bizarre reason.

7. Bukayo Saka

8. Martin Odegaard

9. Gabriel Jesus

10. Emile Smith Rowe

11. Gabriel Martinelli

Mikel Arteta’s Young Guns: numerically delightful.