Since The Athletic reported Erling Haaland’s Manchester City decision on April 19, the man everybody had unintentionally forgotten about when discussing City’s need for a number 9 is Gabriel Jesus who has gone on to score five goals in two games, somewhat throwing a curve-ball at his manager Pep Guardiola and sending a strong message that he is the answer to the club’s no.9 conundrum.
When the Brazilian joined the Etihad from Palmeiras, he was supposed to be City’s heir to the waning and soon departing Sergio Aguero. Five years on, it hasn’t quite gone to plan for Jesus through no fault of his own but down to the lack of opportunities.
But, when you look at his Manchester City record since his introduction into the team, he’s appeared in 155 league games, scoring 57 goals which makes for tremendous reading when you consider that most of those 155 appearances have been from the substitutes bench. In all competitions for the club, he’s made 234 appearances, and is just six shy of joining the 100-goal club for The Citizens, a true testament to the kind of ability he possesses but also committed and diehard nature he offers when he is given the opportunity.
Such is his trustworthy and reliable presence so far during his career as a Sky Blue that he is now strongly being touted for a move to Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal this summer, with the Spaniard reportedly exploring the possibility of signing the Brazilian at the end of the season, as per The Athletic’s David Ornstein.
It’s arguably safe to say, the Brazilian has been rather underappreciated at the club, and its a shame if his career at the Etihad is to be cut short this summer considering he was supposed to be the long-term replacement for Sergio Aguero upon his exciting arrival in January 2017.
One of the key factors regarding his future — aside from the fact he is out of contract in 2023 — is that this is a World Cup year in which players want to be playing regularly enough to be in contention for their countries. He wasn’t even in the last Brazil squad, one which will have proved damaging to his chances of featuring at the World Cup later this year.
It will have helped his cause that he scored his goals (and assisted the other, as well as winning his own penalty) in front of Brazil’s assistant manager and other staff at the Etihad Stadium at the weekend. Of course, if he were to keep this up at City then he would surely be back alongside his compatriots sooner rather than later.
However, considering the constant chopping and changing in the City team, which is totally understandable considering the vast amount of quality at Guardiola’s disposal, it is highly unlikely the forward will be a guaranteed fixture in the first XI as the season draws to an intriguing close.
So, when weighing up his options it’s easy to believe that a new club, some regular starts and a few goals would give him more chances and that’s where a potential move to Arsenal could well be perfect not just for him but for Mikel Arteta’s men in the long run, as he constantly scours the market for a future number nine to finally replace Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the potentially departing Alexandre Lacazette at the end of the season.
Below I will attempt to evaluate Gabriel Jesus in-depth using The Eye Test and Underlying Stats to come to a conclusion about the potential effectiveness of this signing and if I believe the Brazilian could become a success at the Emirates.
THE EYE TEST
*Note: This is based on my personal evaluation of the player. I will be drawing on extensive hindsight knowledge, in-game footage as well as YouTube highlight reels to evaluate Jesus in this section*
At face value, Jesus would tick a lot of boxes for Arteta. Crucially, at 25, he holds so much potential to blossom into the one of the Premier League’s best number nine if he isn’t already, and also become a swift household name at the Emirates. Also, Arteta already holds valuable knowledge of the player seeing as he coached him for a couple of years as he formed part of Pep Guardiola’s coaching staff before he was appointed Arsenal manager in December 2019.
The most consistent element of Gabriel Jesus’ game is he is a consummate grafter, a hard worker and a willing runner when running against the ball. When Guardiola’s men press the opposition, the Brazilian is usually the one instigating along with Bernardo Silva or Kevin De Bruyne. With Jesus in the side, City are always more decisive and devastating in winning the ball back high up the pitch.
Arguably, his willingness and unselfishness has been sort of his undoing in a City shirt, with Guardiola regularly deploying him as a hard-working right winger rather than his preferred position as the main man up front. However, that says a lot of Jesus’ ability and sacrifice as a team player. He is a team-first individual which Arteta would enjoy possessing at the Emirates.
Ever single game Jesus plays, he expresses and showcases his ruthless hunger, desire and the fact that he has a point to prove even when struggling for regular starts in the City. It is why he has become a key figure when he does play. For his potential employers Arsenal, Arteta has specifically targeted youthful players with room for growth and most of all determination as one of their vital aspects, and the enthusiasm and exuberance of those players have spread throughout the squad.
Jesus will be no different, and he could form the icing on the cake in Arteta’s squad as the consistent goalscoring number nine they desperately crave.
The Brazilian would suit the way Arteta wants to play, as he is technically and tactically gifted. Always positionally aware and willing to fight for the shirt. Incredibly versatile, quick, skillful, agile and a tireless worker off the ball. Such traits would make Jesus an ideal and perfect fit for the young forward line at the Emirates.
Most of all, he is a fox in the box, and that’s probably an underrated commodity in his game. If you need any evidence of this, check out his goal at Stamford Bridge in City’s 1-0 win over Chelsea back in September. He takes advantage of Joao Cancelo’s loose shot, toying with Thiago Silva through a stunning drag back, bringing the ball in his path again before firing a shot past Edouard Mendy in the Chelsea goal. A goal truly reflecting of his potent and ruthless abilities in front of goal.
His four goals against Watford last weekend showcased his stunning attributes all rolled into one. He’s sharp, energetic, enthusiastic and ruthless when he is given the opportunity. Furthermore, not only is Jesus a sharp goalscorer when given the chances, but he is just as good in his chance creation.
He’s so far recorded eight assists along with his seven Premier League goals highlighting just how crucial he is when City are in need of goals and also a reflection of his selfless character. His assist for Phil Foden against Liverpool at Anfield in the thrilling 2-2 draw in October was simply stunning, picking up the ball deep in the half-space before driving at about five Liverpool players, bypassing both Fabinho and Curtis Jones before playing a perfect pass for Phil Foden to fire past Alisson. What about his stunning cross for Bernardo Silva’s superb strike against Aston Villa at Villa Park?
Possessing a striker who is more than capable of providing goals as he is scoring them himself is a unique quality and one which Mikel Arteta will surely be desperate to have. Alexandre Lacazette has provided seven assists so far this campaign showing that he can create but he’s not as ruthless in front of goal, registering just four goals compared to Jesus’ seven, and its important to note that the Brazilian has featured in less minutes than the experienced Frenchman, again showing that Jesus is indeed the decisive forward Arsenal crave. When he plays, he will contribute one way or another.
One of the other reasons Guardiola loves deploying Jesus on the flanks, is because of his stunning dribbling qualities. As stated previously, he is quick, silky in his footwork, incredibly deceptive when getting past his opponents and is capable of driving with the ball into dangerous areas of the pitch.
This element is very useful when defending against deep blocks. It draws defenders in allowing teammates to exploit space that has been vacated. As well as becoming a good block-disrupter, the Brazilian is also so good at locating pockets in between the opposition lines, receiving the ball in tight areas and bypassing players. Jesus, Grealish, Foden, Mahrez and Bernardo Silva all possess these unique traits and it is why Guardiola has found various ways in breaching rugged and organised defensive shapes.
Also his movement off the ball is also an underappreciated quality in his game, he very rarely gets caught offside because he has indeed mastered the art of timing his runs and movement when running in behind defences.
*All stats from FBref.com and compared to other Att Mid/Wingers in the Top 5 Men’s Big Leagues + European Competition. Unless otherwise noted, all stats are based on per 90 minutes played*
What stands out the most when evaluating Gabriel Jesus’ underlying statistics is his non-penalty Goals (npG) and his non-penalty expected goals (npxG). He ranks in the 92nd percentile for non-penalty goals among his peers, scoring 0.45 goals per90 and in the 96th percentile for his npxG with 0.44 goals per90 showcasing how effective he is when scoring goals.
He also ranks in the 65th percentile for expected assists (xA) with 0.20 per90. It may not rank as high as his non-penalty goals, but it still reflects how useful and effective he is in the final third. In just 1,547 minutes of Premier League football, Jesus has registered 15 goal involvements (seven goals, 8 assists). Amongst all Premier League players so far this season, he ranks third for goals + assists per90 (0.87) and also ranks third for non-penalty goals + assists per90 (0.82), again highlighting that despite his lack of starts and opportunities, he is still incredible decisive and effective when he is indeed offered chances to impress.
That is something Arteta will need to take into consideration if he is to pull of this move in the summer, give Jesus game-time and he will surely deliver. The Brazilian also ranks in the top ten of Premier League players this season for expected goals (xG) with 0.50 per 90 pitting him at eighth. Also, he ranks 10th for expected assists (xA) with 0.25 per90. For goal creating actions, he ranks fourth with 17 actions and for goal-creating actions per 90, he ranks 1st considering he’s featuring more from the bench, 0.99 per90. He’s an adept dribbler when approaching the penalty area, averaging 1.74 carries into the opposition box, ranking him fourth amongst Guardiola’s squad.
These are all incredible underlying numbers from Jesus, showing that he can be relied upon for goals and assists, so imagine how many he could pull when he does get the starts. Against Watford, he was involved in all five goals, scoring four and assisting the other for Rodri. At Arsenal, his numbers could well increase if he is afforded the role of being Arteta’s main man up top, as well as playing alongside the likes of Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith-Rowe who will operate behind him.
Defensively, Jesus again leaves no stone unturned statistically amongst City players. He registers the third-most tackles in the attacking third for players who have played more than 10 games for Guardiola’s men, averaging 0.58 per90, again that is considerably more than Arsenal’s Lacazette who averaged 0.32 per90 despite featuring in considerably more minutes than Jesus.
Arteta will certainly be looking to express a more high-energy style off the ball next season, and Jesus perfectly fits the bill in deploying such. When playing against the ball, the former Palmeiras star is incredibly adept at putting his foot in, and intercepting loose passes high up the pitch. He ranks first amongst the attackers in Guardiola’s squad for tackles + interceptions (2.09), fifth for successful pressures (3.26) and third amongst players who has featured in more than ten games for pressures in the attacking third.
The 54-time Brazilian international is also influential in the penalty area for City, and that’s further reflected through his fox-in-the-box style but also his tremendous dribbling and low sense of gravity when operating in tight areas in the midst of a whole batch of defenders surrounding him, he ranks fourth in the City squad with 133 touches in the attacking penalty area, once again that is considerably more than Lacazette (105).
Gabriel Jesus is indeed an incredibly gifted forward, and its a shame he hasn’t fulfilled the undoubted promise he was touted to possess upon his arrival at the Etihad in 2017, but again that is no fault of his own but down to the lack of opportunities and starts in the XI he’s been afforded.
Seven goals and eight assists from just 1,547 minutes of Premier League football is so impressive for someone who is trying to find his stride while making room for inconsistent game-time, so imagine how many more involvements he’d have had Guardiola entrusted him with the responsibility of being City’s regular number nine in the team.
With the club reportedly close to securing the signature of Erling Haaland, its probably time Gabriel Jesus seeks pastures new to gain the minutes and opportunities his abilities merit, and Arsenal under the tutelage of Mikel Arteta and in an ever-growing and impressive built and fresh squad represents the perfect opportunity for Jesus to be finally appreciated for how good he is. The stats above do not lie, when he is on the field of play, he delivers.
The stats also show he is more effective, more potent and more decisive than Alexandre Lacazette so it is evidently clear that Arteta should indeed break the bank to acquire the Brazilian because he will be the ruthless number nine that Arsenal have needed for a long while. Jesus will be quickly be a household favourite and would propel their game under the Spaniard for years to come.