Avatar photo Date:23rd August 2023 at 1:14pm
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Since arriving at the Emirates Gabriel Jesus has been a vital cog in Mikel Arteta’s machine. The Brazilian has significantly upgraded the Gunners’ attack and made significant contributions in Arsenal’s title charge last season. With 11 goals and seven assists from his 33 appearances in all competitions, he has already made good returns on his £45 million transfer from rival club Manchester City. It’s pretty clear the forward will play a big part in the Spaniard’s plans going forward but it hasn’t always been an easy ride for the 26-year-old in North London. A severe knee injury late last year prevented the striker from playing at the World Cup in Qatar and also threatened to derail momentum in Arsenal’s title push. Eddie Nketiah was the man tasked with filling in for Arteta’s star-signing and if it wasn’t for the Englishman’s all-important contributions during Jesus’ spell on the sidelines, the Gunners’ Premier League aspirations may well have ended a lot sooner than they did. Now with the Brazilian set for yet more time away from the pitch recovering from injury, the burden up front will once again fall on the 24-year-old’s shoulders. Can he repeat his heroic feats from last season to help set the tone for Arsenal’s Premier League campaign? And could he even go one step further and knock Jesus off his perch as first-choice striker in Arteta’s team? 

The early signs are positive with Nketiah finding the net against Nottingham Forest on the opening day of the Premier League season. The manner of his finish is also reason for optimism after the forward looked unphased under some considerable Forest pressure while making room for the shot. It’s an indication of a player who is feeling supremely confident in his abilities and that can only be a good thing heading into the new season. Where doubts will linger however is whether or not the striker will be able to maintain this level of performance and output on a consistent basis. For all the progress Nketiah has made since Arteta took over in late 2019, his goal contributions have lagged behind his competitors. In his 39 appearances across all competitions for the Gunners last season, he only managed to find the back of the net on nine occasions, finishing the season with 0.16 goals per 90 minutes of football; that’s not the best return for someone looking to break into the starting XI, especially considering that Jesus was out for a large chunk of the campaign. The numbers aren’t kind to him when assessing his Premier League career as a whole either. In his 90 appearances in England’s top flight, Nketiah has only netted 15 goals with four assists. Arsenal’s success last season wasn’t solely reliant on a striker producing 20 goals after the likes of Gabriel Martinelli, Martin Odegaard and Bukato Saka all made significant contributions, but it can’t hurt their chances to have a goal threat up front who is within reach of achieving that tally. Granted Nketiah did not get many minutes over the course of his 30 Premier League appearances, his contributions will have to increase if Arsenal are to make another bright start to their title challenge this season. 

The pressure is on to start strong and despell claims that Arteta’s side missed their big chance last season, but from a personal perspective, Nketiah will also be occupied with the tough task of ensuring Jesus is challenged for a starting spot once the Brazilian returns from injury. Arteta’s star-signing from last summer’s transfer window has been in excellent form since arriving at the Emirates; he’s made 18 goals contributions in his limited gametime so far but his off-the-ball workrate and ability to raise the profile of his teammates’ play is what sets him aside as one of Arsenal’s best assets. He is expected to continue that rich vein of form when returning to the pitch and while many will view Nketiah as the weaker option of the two, there are several statistics that say otherwise. Ironically, the weakest aspect of Jesus’ overall game is his finishing as no player has undershot their expected goals tally by a larger margin than Jesus has since his Premier League debut in 2016. To rub further salt in that wound Nketiah has a vastly superior open play xG average than Jesus from last season as well as a better shots per 90 minutes tally. In fact Nketiah’s average of 0.69 non-penalty xG per 90 minutes was only bettered by golden boot winner Erling Haaland and Newcastle striker Calum Wilson. His workrate and movement last season demonstrates how his overall game has come on leaps and bounds since returning from his loan spell with Leeds United and if he can maintain that as well as add some killer instinct in front of goal to his game then he will give the favoured Jesus a good contest for a starting spot. However, the 24-year-old remains a massive outside bet to outscore Erling Haaland to win the Golden Boot this year at 100/1, but those looking to place an outside bet can use betting offers and promotions when they do. 

Having said all that, one thing you can’t take away from the 24-year-old is his ability to produce a big moment when it really matters. The significance of Arsenal’s 3-2 victory over Manchester United at the Emirates on January 22nd 2023 to the club’s title challenge cannot be understated. As players returned to club duties following the conclusion of the 2022 World Cup, speculation was rife that the time away would signal the beginning of Arsenal’s downfall in their push for the Premier League title. A 2-0 win in the North London derby did little to placate skeptics and after Erik Ten Hag’s side earned a 2-1 win over title rivals in the Manchester derby, the Red Devils were seen as the first true test of the Gunners’ mettle in their title challenge. The pressure was on to capitalise on City’s lost ground and Nketiah produced two instinctive finishes of the highest quality, one of which a 90-minute winner, to maintain the five point gap at the top of the table. It was one of the standout extraordinary moments from an extraordinary season for the Gunners and if Nketiah can continue to produce big moments in big games this season while adding a few more goals to his overall tally, then Arsenal should be in good shape with or without Jesus in the side.

Image from: unsplash.com


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