Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Time waits for no man, not even Jesus …


Let’s start with the story from James in The Athletic yesterday (£), about Gabriel Jesus. He reports that Arsenal wouldn’t rule out selling the Brazil international this summer as they look to rebuild up front, perhaps in a different way than they had envisaged due to the impact of Kai Havertz.

It’s worth pointing out that being open to a player’s departure doesn’t mean the player isn’t valued or useful, or has no part to play. Nor is it the same as actively trying to move someone on, as has been the case with certain individuals in the not too distant past. Even then, wanting rid of a player and being able to shift them are two separate things.

So, with Jesus it’s likely to be a case that he is high profile, still relatively young (he turned 27 in April), and retains a decent level of value in the market because of his quality and experience. Should a bid arrive that reflects that, the club will give it some thought. However, it is a measure of how football moves so quickly that this is even a discussion point.

When he arrived from Man City, he was absolutely sensational in the opening part of the season … until he went to the World Cup and suffered that injury. He brought dynamism and movement, hold up play and goals (albeit not quite as many as you you’d like) to the number 9 position, and he was so integral to everything we did. He played a big role in that flying start, which propelled us to a title challenge.

Then the injury. The surgery. He came back in March, appeared in all 12 of our remaining Premier League fixtures and scored 5 goals along the way. Not a brilliant return, but not terrible for a player coming back from a significant injury. This season though, it’s been more of a struggle. He has missed 8 games in total: the two opening games of the campaign after another small procedure on his knee, three games in October/November (including the away trip to Newcastle), and three in February after providing a goal and an assist in our 2-1 win at Nottingham Forest.

This was a game he pushed himself to be involved in, with Mikel Arteta saying afterwards:

He had an issue with his knee and everyone was trying to protect him and saying don’t go outside. But he was saying ‘I want to be there I want to help the team to win the game’. When you have that mentality, good things are going to happen. I’m really pleased with him.

So, it’s reasonable to point out, he’s battling through some pain/fitness issues. In total in the Premier League this season he has 24 appearances (17 starts) with 4 goals and 4 assists to his name. In pure end-product terms, it’s not a good return, and questions over his finishing and decision making in the final third have been fairly commonplace. In the Champions League, he stacks up better, with 4 goals and 3 assists in 8 appearances.

So, while I can understand Arsenal being open to the right offer – and that position might also be informed by worries about how fitness issues might be part of the equation and how they might continue to affect him – he’s also a player I’d be more than happy to keep around. If his position as a nailed on starter is one he’s really going to have to fight for, he’s exactly the level of squad player you need if you want to be genuinely competitive.

His versatility is so useful, he can play in both wide positions if need be, and has done so this season to good effect. He deputised for Bukayo Saka in our 1-0 win over Man City at home, and put in a Trojan defensive performance on the left in the 0-0 draw at the Etihad, providing real cover for Jakub Kiwior at left-back. He was also important to get us back into our Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich, and while that didn’t end up the way we wanted over two legs, his experience in Europe is not something we should take lightly.

The other thing to take into account is that when it comes to players leaving Arsenal this summer, there are so many others who have question marks over their futures, that Jesus doesn’t feel like high priority. Decisions need to be made over Eddie Nketiah (who would be the most obvious departure if you’re selling a forward), Reiss Nelson, Emile Smith Rowe, Fabio Vieira, Aaron Ramsdale, and Thomas Partey; the loan players like Albert Sambi Lokonga, Kieran Tierney, and Nuno Tavares; not to mention players who will be leaving at the ends of their deals in Cedric and Mohamed Elneny. There’s a lot to do, and only so much you actually can do. In that context, I think Jesus is low priority, but when you think of someone who might generate a good fee, he’s near the top of the list in that regard.

I also think, given the way this season has progressed, there’s a decision to be made about Oleksandr Zinchenko too, and that also shows you that you can be flavour of the month and not too long afterwards your stock has fallen considerably. Both he and Jesus were so important to the way this team developed, and now both could leave. I don’t know if it’s an indicator of how quickly Arteta’s team is progressing, or more down the individuals themselves. Probably a little from Column A, a little from Column B, but it’d be wrong to overlook their positive contribution in the grand scheme of things.

But it’d also be wrong not to see the reality of where they are now, when you think about the team and their specific roles. As I’ve said often recently, I think a ‘proper’ left-back is an important part of this summer’s business. It’s feasible on paper, given his history and experience, that Zinchenko could be used as a midfield player, but Arteta has never shown any inclination to do that. I suspect he could be on shakier ground than Jesus.

This really is going to be an interesting summer. Sometimes it’s really obvious what a club is going to do, other times it’s a bit more opaque, and I feel like that’s where we are this time around. A forward? Yes, but what kind? A midfielder? Certainly, but what profile? A defender, a goalkeeper? Likely, but we have no idea who.

It’ll be fascinating to see how it plays out. Finally on Jesus, he has talked of eschewing the Copa America to ensure he does the right thing by his own body, to make sure he’s injury free (perhaps with more surgery) and to do his best when he is fit again. I really like him as a player, I think he’s got qualities that would be really useful for us if he can get back to a reliable level of fitness, so I’d be happy if he stayed. As ever though, the market will dictate what happens to some extent, so let’s see.

Right, I’ll leave it there for now. Have a good one folks.

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