It’s no secret that goals were a huge problem for Arsenal last season. The Gunners missed out on the top four places by just one point, but were outscored by local rivals Tottenham by a margin of eight crucial goals.
What has become apparent from the recent episodes of the Amazon All or Nothing documentary series is that the club were fully aware of this issue too. Assistant coach Steve Round is shown holding extra tactical sessions with Alexandre Lacazette where he exhibits clips of Karim Benzema to encourage the 30-year-old striker to improve his movement in the box.
As well all know though these sadly did not work. Lacazette ended the season with just four goals in the Premier League and has since gone on to join Lyon on a free transfer. With his departure though, finding a solution to the goal scoring problem became a number one priority for Edu this summer.
The man chosen to be the antidote to the Gunners impotence in front of goal was Gabriel Jesus who arrived from Manchester City in a deal understood to be worth in the region of £45 million. The Brazilian’s arrival has been compared in many ways to that of legendary striker Thierry Henry. A forward capable of drifting into the wide areas looking to prove himself after failing to silence all doubters at one of Europe’s biggest clubs. It’s easy to see why people have made that leap. Could it be though that perhaps, Jesus bares more similarities to a far more recent Gunners star?
Alexis Sanchez unsurprisingly does not share the same levels of adoration from the Arsenal fan base due to the nature of his departure, but while the Chilean was at the club, he was simply electric. Across 166 appearances for the Gunners Sanchez managed 80 goals and 45 assists and was crucial in helping them claim FA Cup success in 2015 and 2017. While Jesus is technically yet to get off the mark for Arsenal in a competitive sense, the parallels are clear to see.
What’s most noticeably similar between the two is the intensity with which they play the game. Sanchez was known for refusing to give up lost causes and often played himself into the infamous ‘red zone’ due to his inability to conserve energy during matches despite obvious fatigue.
This relentless pressing bares the hallmarks of what has made Jesus such an instant hit with fans in North London. “When we need runners and players that help a lot with our high intensity and high pressing, he is the best in the world,” said Pep Guardiola of the Brazilian during his time at City.
This was borne out in his Premier League debut for Arsenal where Jesus managed more successful pressures than anyone else in the Gunners front line as well as completing a tackle and a further interception. If you scan back in to pre-season, Jesus’ first goal, a scrappy rebound after a deflected Gabriel Martinelli cross, is another prime example of how willing he is to chase down lost causes as well.
Perhaps what puts Jesus on a higher footing when it comes to this side of his game than Sanchez, is the intelligence with which the Brazilian presses opposition defenders. Rather than trying to chase them into submission the 25-year-old will cleverly place himself in between several passing lanes at once in order to create panic in the opposition defence.
Take this instance from the 6-0 Emirates Cup victory over Sevilla. Karim Rekik is in possession for Julen Lopetegui’s side when Jesus looks to begin pressing him. Rather than running to put pressure on the ball though, the Brazilian blocks off two passing lanes with some intelligent positioning as exhibited below, forcing Rekik to go back to his goalkeeper Bono.
Bono then receives the ball, but rather than admiring his work, Jesus shifts himself again in order to cut off another passing lane. Gabriel Martinelli gets involved to apply even more pressure on Bono who, having failed to find what he’s looking for with an easy exit in front of him, is forced to play a rushed pass out to the right that Bukayo Saka pounces on to score.
It is no secret that Mikel Arteta wants his Arsenal side to spend more time playing in the opposition half. This is why he has begun the season playing attacking and offensively minded defenders in Ben White, William Saliba, Gabriel and Oleksandr Zinchenko, and invested nearly £30 million in a goalkeeper in Aaron Ramsdale who is an expert at mid-to-long range distribution. Somewhat perversely though having strikers who are good at defending well is key to this as well and Jesus is one of the best around.
Sanchez has now moved to Marseille as his post-Arsenal career continues to lurch from disappointment to disappointment. His legacy as arguably the greatest player of the Emirates era remains nonetheless. However, in Jesus, the Gunners may have finally found someone capable of filling the Chilean’s boots.