Jesus key to Arsenal ‘intensity’, says boss

Ahead of the big kick-off, Arteta backs ‘phenomenal’ £45m striker to add fresh energy to team

Thursday, 4th August — By Steve Barnett

Orlando City v Arsenal- FC Series - Exploria Stadium

Gunners strikers Gabriel Jesus and Eddie Nketiah have similar qualities. Photo: Andrea Vilchez/SPP

CASTING a messianic figure over an empty Emirates Stadium, Gabriel Jesus was unveiled and quickly hailed as Arsenal’s saviour.

Few have argued that the £45million shekels transferred into Manchester City’s bank account isn’t money well spent. But there are those who point out that one of the so-called footballing gods, namely Pep Guardiola, saw fit to more often than not cast Jesus to the substitutes’ bench.

The 25-year-old striker is, however, turning the naysayers into believers. On Saturday he marked his first Arsenal home game with a hat-trick as the Gunners wrapped up their pre-season with a 6-0 thrashing of Sevilla to lift the Emirates Cup.

It took his tally to seven goals in five warm-up matches – and has only served to make Gooners even more giddy at the prospect of what the coming campaign has in store.

When Jesus said he wants to “win everything” with Arsenal, though, he didn’t mean the Emirates Cup. And goals in friendlies, much like in training, don’t count.

The Gunners kick-off the new Premier League season tomorrow (Friday) away at Crystal Palace, and in many ways there are few better places for Mikel Arteta to showcase his newly assembled squad than Selhurst Park – a ground where Arsenal were humbled 3-0 last term. After that sorry night in south London, Arteta could only apologise to the fans.

Having spent £120m and counting for the second successive summer, however, it seems this time around the Gunners’ boss is clearly feeling more confident.

“They [the supporters] are going to hopefully love every player, for the commitment and everything that they try to give on that pitch,” said Arteta.

“I think that connection is being built because they know that the players transmit what they are willing to do.

“We want to give them [the supporters] the right enjoyment, and the right performances to make them happy, and we are getting everything back from them as well. So I think there is good chemistry there.”

Reflecting on what his new number nine brings, the Spaniard added: “What we are seeing is that everybody, not just Gabby, plays at that intensity and that willingness to win the ball, to promote mistakes and to play in the opponents’ half as much as possible.

“You cannot do that if players at the front are walking, they are not tracking, they don’t have that instinct and that intention to provoke things that we want, and Gabby is phenomenal at that.

“His versatility is also well known. Now we are using him as a nine – but he can play as a winger, off the left and the right. You can play with two strikers, as we have done in pre-season, and change the shape a little bit.”

The investment made again in the squad this summer has certainly given Arsenal fans a justified cause for optimism. Fabio Vieira comes with a glittering reputation, while Oleksandr Zinchenko will provide an unrivalled winner’s mentality. And Brazilian winger Marquinhos will bring that rawness of youth that every squad needs.

It is, though, a player bought in 2019, William Saliba, who will perhaps rival Jesus for the headlines after a faultless pre-season gave glimpses of a talent ready to prove Arteta wrong for sending him out on loan for so long.

In truth, Arsenal are only a Jesus injury away from repeating the mistakes of last season – and being left with only Eddie Nketiah to lead the line.

Having agreed a new long-term deal this summer Nketiah has started to prove his doubters wrong, and is getting better all the time.

But both Nketiah and Jesus share similar qualities – high energy, determination and a pain in the backside for defenders – so it could be argued the north Londoners will struggle for a plan B when called upon.

Perhaps that’s why Arsenal haven’t finished splashing the cash just yet.

“We’re still hoping to do something else if the market allows us to do that,” admitted Arteta.

“You’ve seen some movement in the other direction in the last few days, so we want to get the perfect balance and the plan we wanted right at the beginning. Whether we can accomplish that or not is another story, but I’m happy with where we are now.”

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