Don’t Believe The Striker Hype

It took just 85 seconds for Arsenal’s new signing Gabriel Jesus to bag his first goal in a preseason friendly against FC Nurnberg.

Since then, as preparations ramp up for the new PremierPINC
League campaign, the North Londoner’s number nine has not stopped scoring, adding to the brace he got against the Germans with another goal versus Everton.

Despite these goals coming in non-competitive games excitement around Jesus is already building.

CBS Soccer declared Jesus “looked like a natural fit” and the man who’d been “handed the keys to the Gunners attack.”

Arsenal legend Ian Wright was equally effusive about the Brazilian describing him as a “perfect fit” for the club and someone that can challenge for the Premier League Golden Boot.

In a video released on social media, Wright can be seen commenting on Jesus’s impressive finishing to Gabriel Martinelli, “that’s why we bought him,” the youngster quips in response.

The curious thing about the buzz around Jesus is that almost exactly a year ago, the man himself was playing down his qualities as a central striker.

Manager Pep Guardiola revealed he had requested a change in position and compared him slightly unfavorably to Ferran Torres, a player signed as a winger.

“I spoke with Gabriel and he likes to play sometimes more in wider positions than the central one, and Ferran has a big sense for the goal, I would say a little bit higher than Gabriel when he plays in central positions,” the coach said.

It was a sentiment echoed by the man himself, who pointed out that he’d played in that position for other teams.

“In my mind, I was always more of a winger than a forward,” he explained “I think that with my qualities, I help more from the wing than from the center. I’ve been playing like this for the national team since the Copa America.”

“It’s nothing new for me, nor for many people in Brazil. But [in England] Maybe they don’t follow [Brazil National team] so much.”

A look at Gabriel Jesus’s stats from his time in Manchester shows a player with an impressive record. In 159 appearances for City he scored 58 goals and registered 29 assists, giving him a goal involvement every other game, a tally most forwards would be pleased with.

His 160 minutes-per-goal rate is even more impressive and puts him amongst the top performing strikers since he joined the league.

But, as many Manchester City fans would probably point out, Jesus’s issue is that he should have scored more.

Based on the expected goals [xG] metric, Jesus has underperformed in terms of the quality of chances presented to him. Scoring 12 fewer goals than he should have done.

A look at the longer-term trend also sees decreasing output from the Brazilian. Jesus hit more than 20 goals in two of his first 3 full seasons at Manchester City. Put the last two years he’s managed 14 and 13.

Playing fewer games is a factor, but it’s not like he was barely featuring, appearing in over 40 matches in both of those seasons.

‘I want to shoot myself in the head’

Arsenal is banking on the change of scenery and opportunity to feature in the majority of games shaking one of the possible explanations for Jesus’s profligacy in front of goal.

Back in 2019, he revealed that he was sometimes overwhelmed by the need to score.

“Always I think: ‘Wow I have to score’ because I’m playing for a big club in big competitions with big players,” he said.

“When I’m not happy with me I want to shoot myself in the head because it’s difficult.

“I take it [personally]. I think: ‘Oh my god I have to score, I have to score, I have to score’. When I have the chance sometimes I miss because I think too much and put too much pressure on myself. I try. I’m getting better. I’m working to score and don’t think about the pressure.”

At Arsenal the pressure to convert chances will be different to Manchester City, he’ll be the main striker, unlikely to be dropped for failing to deliver, but equally, have a team with more reliance on him converting chances.

Premier League stats show Manchester City created the second most big chances in the league last season with 87, while Arsenal created the fourth fewest in the division with 39.

Since declaring himself a winger last season, Jesus has changed his tune and said he is targeting challenging for the Golden Boot this year.

But more important than that target or the goals in the preseason was a quote from Jesus’s mother about what she saw in her son’s game against Orlando City

“I’m seeing you different again, playing happy,” she reportedly told him. Arsenal fans will hope it stays that way.