Sunday, October 2, 2022

Wednesday round-up: Jesus at 9, Pepe to Nice, Holding’s Villa link

Morning all, a quick Wednesday round-up for you.

I enjoyed Gabriel Jesus talking about rediscovering the number 9 position. Famously, after going through the 2018 World Cup without scoring, he had doubts about his ability to play that role. At Man City and then for Brazil he was played primarily as a wide player.

Arsenal, of course, wanted him to be the thing he wasn’t sure he could be. Conversations with Edu about what we wanted for him played a part in him joining, and he told ESPN:

“It’s normal to think that I can’t play as a 9, that I’m a winger. I had this in my head for a long time. Now I have a different mindset and I believe in myself much more.

“I went back to being the usual Gabriel, thinking that I’m a 9. I went back to being what I was before, I am no longer that robot that used to be there [at City].”

It’s interesting to think he feels liberated and more free at Arsenal, because at times we’ve wondered about the rigidity of Mikel Arteta’s football. But it’s clear he’s free to join in deeper to link play, or wide to start moves, because he can also get on the end of them. That’s very useful in itself, but it also pulls defences apart because a striker who can be in one place then pop up in a dangerous spot seconds later is a nightmare for the opposition.

It was quite informative to see in one of last week’s episodes of All Or Nothing, Alexandre Lacazette in a meeting with one of the coaches who basically implored him to be a bit more like Karim Benzema – a striker who will get involved in build-up but then go again to ensure they’re in the box for a chance on goal. Arsenal were aware of the problem, but it seems like Laca just didn’t have what was required physically to do that and eventually lost his place to Eddie Nketiah.

There are no such issues with Jesus, and there’s something quite Arsenal about the repurposing of a player who has lost his way a little bit to become a key part of the team. Hopefully he can build on the two goals and two assists when we travel to Bournemouth on Saturday.

Elsewhere, having mentioned Nicolas Pepe yesterday, it’s being reported that Nice are interested in taking him on loan for the season. On the one hand, it’s a solution that would probably suit both parties. He’d get to go somewhere and, hopefully, play more regularly, and Arsenal would create space in the squad for another signing and get a significant chunk of his wages off the bill for the next 10 months or so.

As I wrote, I don’t think the manager’s trust in the player will have changed much over the course of the summer, so in that sense it’s a solution. However, I can’t help but wonder if we’re digging ourselves deeper into a kind of self-perpetuating vicious circle where every club out there knows that every player we don’t want is gettable via a loan or some other cheap deal rather than a purchase.

I mean, I get it. The market is tough, clubs in Europe don’t have a lot of money, it’s difficult to move players who are on big wages, but at some point we have to get better at selling. I know there’s a school of thought that says Pepe might well be one of the last of this type of deal: the contract termination, ‘Buy-none-get-one-free’ kind, and that’s certainly possible, but it’s also possible that players we like now – and who we see as potentially valuable – lose their shine due to injury or loss of form, and then we’re right back here again.

There are some clubs who drive a hard bargain, but right now our bargains are as soft as they get and we don’t drive as much as clatter up on a pony and cart.

Elsewhere, Rob Holding is being linked with a move to Aston Villa following the serious injury sustained by Diego Carlos last week. It’s a bit spurious, but it would make some sense. He’s fallen down the pecking order now that William Saliba has returned, and while you could see a role for him as a squad player with Europa League and so on, he’s going to be 27 next month and if he has desires to play regularly, he is going to have to give strong consideration to leaving Arsenal. Maybe one to keep an eye on, but I also think Holding might just like the role he has right now.

Finally for today, happy retirement to Nacho Monreal who announced he was hanging up his boots yesterday. Signed out of the blue from Malaga in January 2013, he took a little while to settle in at Arsenal, but once he did he became one of the team’s most consistent performers during the latter Wenger years.

He made 251 appearances in total, winning three FA Cups along the way, and his semi-final goal in 2017 against Man City, then his role in that back three with Holding and Per Mertesacker in the final against Chelsea, cemented his place in Arsenal history. Best of luck to him with whatever comes next.

Right, that’s your lot for this morning, take it easy.

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