Gabriel Jesus is a Near-Perfect Signing for Arsenal
Jesus is coming. No, not that one, the Brazilian one. According to reports, Gabriel Jesus has joined Arsenal from Manchester City on a five-year deal for an alleged £45 million. The four-time Premier League winner should be announced relatively soon.
However, there are supporters who don’t appear enthused about Jesus’ arrival. These fans, likely identical to the collection of people who use the term “Artetasexual”, accuse Arsenal of signing a City reject. They claim that the club have brought in a player who served as backup striker for a team that did not deploy a striker.
But the Brazilian forward does not just represent a significant upgrade in a position of great need for Arsenal. He is a top-end talent. In 2,570 minutes of play for City last season, Jesus produced 13 goals and 12 assists. During the 2021-22 campaign, Jesus provided goal contributions at a clip of one every 102.8 minutes. In stark contrast, Alexandre Lacazette scored or assisted a goal every 150.1 minutes.
Jesus’ underlying numbers are highly encouraging. Among forwards, the Brazilian’s non-penalty expected goals per 90 currently sits at 0.44 according to FBref. This places him in the 81st percentile at the position, above Darwin Nunez, Dusan Vlahovic, Romelu Lukaku, and Richarlison, and level with Kai Havertz.
His creative numbers look even better. Jesus ranks within the 91st percentile for expected assists per 90 among forwards. He plays 1.41 passes into the penalty area (92nd percentile) and 1.49 key passes per 90 (89th percentile). Over the last 365 days, Arsenal’s new no. 9 has produced 2.22 shot-creating actions from live passes (86th percentile) and 0.44 goal-creating actions from live passes (93rd percentile) per 90. And he has done all this while demonstrating efficiency with his passing as well. Despite being in the 93rd percentile for attempted passes, Jesus places in the 99th percentile for pass completion rate.
Jesus is also a menace when he holds on to the ball. He averages 2.02 completed dribbles per 90 (96th percentile), leading to a dribble completion rate of 67.6% (99th percentile). The Brazilian dribbles past 2.22 players per 90, ranking in the 96th percentile in that metric. For those who enjoy a bit of sauce, Jesus finds himself in the 90th percentile for nutmegs. Based on his numbers for carries (96th percentile), total carrying distance (95th percentile), progressive carries (97th percentile), and progressive carrying distance (91st percentile), it’s clear that he can seize the initiative in an attack and give defenders a decision to make.
But perhaps Jesus’ most impressive skill is his pressing ability. Pep Guardiola has referred to Jesus’ skill in this regard as “the best in the world”. Indeed, the former City man ranks in the 99th percentile for tackles made in the final third. Additionally, he finds himself in the 93rd percentile for passes blocked and the 96th percentile for interceptions.
Above is a cascade of numbers and percentiles, but what does all of that mean, exactly? To put it simply, Gabriel Jesus’ addition will likely allow Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal to create and score significantly more goals than the 77 they managed in the 2021-22 campaign. The Brazilian’s particular skill set should fit into the setup like a glove and bring out more in the players around him as well.
Jesus is not a goalscoring machine. But 13 goals in fewer minutes than he is likely to play for Arsenal next season is nothing to scoff at. He is an energetic and hungry forward, willing to take shots at a much more aggressive rate than his predecessor — he has averaged three to four per game over his career. Yes, he will no longer be playing alongside world class chance creators like Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva. But Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka respectively ranked as the 2nd and 6th best chance creators from open play in the Premier League last season. They will be even better, and Arsenal are currently chasing reinforcements in the form of a left-sided eight and an established wide forward.
Jesus also represents an upgrade in terms of chance creation. Not only can he combine with the players around him and play them in to goalscoring opportunities, but he possesses the technical ability to fashion his own chances in the penalty area. He can receive the ball under pressure and offer multiple methods of progression for an attack. Jesus can lay the ball off to teammates, or he can carry the ball himself and beat defenders before setting another Arsenal man up later in the move.
Off the ball will be where Jesus truly excels. His top-tier pressing ability will allow Arteta to instill pressing as a consistent feature of the side. In turn, Arsenal should more consistently win the ball high up the pitch and create more chances off of that. When Arsenal do have the ball, Jesus can also offer clever runs that will keep defenses honest and open up spaces for the likes of Saka, Odegaard, Gabriel Martinelli, and Emile Smith Rowe to exploit.
Perhaps at this point, it all sounds too good to be true. Can Jesus really come in and be that effective in an Arsenal shirt? Well, every transfer is a risk. But several aspects of Jesus’ transfer make him much more of a safe bet than other acquisitions. He has played in the Premier League for several years now and knows what that requires. Furthermore, he played for a team that Arsenal clearly seeks to emulate in playing style, which should make Jesus’ adaptation more straightforward. Having served as assistant manager at City, Arteta is familiar with Jesus and knows what he can expect from the player. At the age of 25, Jesus is likely entering his prime as a forward. Lastly, with the World Cup only a few months away and the center-forward position in Brazil’s starting XI apparently up for grabs, Arsenal’s newest signing should be especially motivated to impress. All of these factors decrease the risk in the Jesus signing.
For a far more reasonable price than you are likely to see another comparable forward signed for this summer, Arsenal have brought in a player of massive pedigree. At only 25 years old, Gabriel Jesus has won several titles for club and country. Given his age, experience, and skill set, he appears a near-perfect acquisition to lead the line for Mikel Arteta’s new-look team. Arsenal have done well with their marquee signing. And if the manager can harness the forward’s abilities and help the Brazilian reach his full potential, Jesus can go on to become a truly great player in both Arsenal’s and the Premier League’s histories.
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