All year, Gabriel Jesus has remained a focal point of Arsenal attention. It’s not surprising why. The team was desperate for a striker last January, passed on one — or failed to get one depending who you ask — and waited until this summer to make their move. To everyone’s pleasant surprise, the club got the business done early and made their move for Jesus.
For those that questioned how he would do and what he could provide for Arenal, they found out immediately. For the first time in what has felt like a long time, Arsenal had a very complete preseason and were almost as ready as ever for the season opener. Jesus shined during the preseason and took that form into the actual Premier League.
In his first month he tallied 3 goals and 3 assists. In the second month he added another 2 goals and 1 assist. But since the second week of October, Jesus’ goal production has dried up. Running in conjunction with that dry spell, Arsenal have failed to score more than one goal in their last 4 games in all competitions.
People will certainly say that’s an example of “correlation does not imply causation”, given Jesus contributed to very nice 3-goal win over Liverpool (3-2) without being directly involved in a goal, but others are truly concerned about the dip in form and finishing in his last few appearances — which peaked in what was perhaps his worst performance to date when Arsenal drew with Southampton. It felt like an important opportunity for get him back on the scoresheet after a few matches without a direct contribution, but sadly, he became the symbol of Arsenal’s wasteful play on the day.
So I guess the only question to ask is, are concerned fans making a mountain of a molehill? ORrrr, is this molehill the start of a mountain?! *panic intensifies*
Let me start with a few reasons I believe fears are being elevated, right or wrong.
- Jesus started his tenure at Arsenal in unplayable form. He was walking on water (no apologies). That’s the level of play many were introduced to him at — not that they didn’t see him with City — but it was, in all honesty, close to the ceiling of his play and some precedents were set very high. And that’s okay, because he was simply outstanding. Excellent ceiling of play.
- His dip is coinciding with Arsenal’s dip in play and that makes it more noticeable and stressful. A contrasting example: Saka started the first two or three games a little slow, but Arsenal were winning, others were scoring the goals and while people had concerns about him, they were dulled by how good Arsenal as a team looked, and that’s what having a good team is about. Jesus hasn’t gotten that same level of surrounding performances.
- Last season, fans saw the ceiling of potential for this side when they didn’t have a complete striker that could support their play and contribute shots and goals — it wasn’t a level many want to revert to and there are fears recent performances are showing shades of it.
- Arsenal currently sit on top of the table — deservedly so — but the margin for error in that race is so little and everyone knows it. And whether deep down people believe there is a title race with City or not, everyone wants to see us in the mix and challenging which means maintaining the level play on display at the start of the year.
I mentioned at the start of Jesus’ time with Arsenal, he was electric in his play, he was almost un-defendable at times, and he was clinical in finishing. And chips on the table, all honesty set forth, it’s probably the finishing — or lack thereof — that has people fretting the most lately. Arteta has talked about having a side that can tally 100 goals in a single Premier League season and if they are going to do that, Jesus will have to play a significant role.
We know Jesus has scored 5 goals and assisted 4 in all competitions for a total of 9 G/A, but how does that compare to his expected goals and assists? When it comes to xG and xA, Jesus has 6.9 xG and 3.2 xA for a total of 10.1 xGA so people are correct, he is off that mark but just a little and certainly he has had at least three or four good chances that most teams would want their star man to convert which could have seen him surpass his expectations.
When we look at his final season with Manchester City, Jesus tallied 8 goals and 8 assists in the Premier League. Similar to his time at Arsenal, these stats were a little lower than his expected numbers. In his final season there, he had 10.8 xG and 6.0 xA, but that is relatively right on the money, missing the mark between reality and expected by .8 xGA.
Coming into this season, Jesus carried a knock for being someone that would show flashes of clinical finishing and goal poaching abilities, but could struggle with his finishing and shooting.
- 2022/23 with Arsenal: 35 shots, 16 on target, 45.7% SOT, .14 goals per shot
- 2021/22 with Man. City: 63 shots, 20 on target, 31.7% SOT, .11 goals per shot
First things first, we know Jesus plays a bigger role at Arsenal and is shooting from more central areas of the pitch which probably helps his numbers. This is also proved out by the fact that he is shooting from about 3 yards closer per shot on average with Arsenal. But this uptick suggests positive things in my view, and it its very fundamental level, him scoring .03 more goals per shot suggests 1. a slight improvement but 2. Arsenal aren’t getting a decline in performance.
Now, the question some will ask: didn’t we expect an uptick when we brought him in to be a central figure and play striker? And if so, is this uptick, uptick-y enough?
It’s a good question, maybe a fair question, and one that will undoubtedly vary from person to person. Some people felt he needed to come in and be a 20-goal figure for this club across a Premier League season and they may feel concerned that he was on track to blow that mark away but now finds himself just a little off the mark.
However others, myself included, were maybe content to see him be a figure that may not be the talismanic “20-goal-man” because he had the skills and profile to help Arsenal’s build up play, create chances, play within Arteta’s fluid system, press, play defense, AND still get into the box to score goals and assist. And when you look at his percentiles it is hard not to be impressed.
There are a few things that really standout to me in this that leave me saying “wow”:
- 3.28 shots per 90 (86th percentile)
- 3.98 shot-creating actions per 90 (94th percentile)
- 82.6% pass completion (98th percentile)
- 2.47 dribblers completed per 90 (96th percentile)
- 8.32 touches (Att Pen) per 90 (98th percentile)
- His high achieving ranks in tackles, interceptions and blocks
To me, these stats align with the eye test of when Jesus has been so good. The times he has been elite and unplayable. When he has come deep to receive the ball, distributed it, made a run, gotten it back, ran at defenses, and created a shot for himself or someone else.
Against Southampton, Jesus tallied:
- 4 shots
- 2 shot-creating actions
- 79.3% pass completion
- 0/3 dribbles (unfortunate but in line with attempts)
- 4 touches (Att Pen)
- 2 tackles, 0 Interceptions, 1 block
So, in what has probably been his worst game for Arsenal, his stats aren’t horribly off the mark. The lack of successful dribbles is unfortunate given how much he can create when he draws defenders to him, but he retained that confidence to run at them throughout the match. He still got his shots, created shots, had a high pass completion and tallied his defensive stats.
What this reminds me, is that form ebbs and flows, it comes and goes. He may be standing at a fork in the road and find that a goal sees him regain his form immediately versus further struggles extends this slide, but that feels within his control. And I have to believe that if he continues to work 4 shots and tally those 2-4 shot creating actions, get those touches in the attacking penalty area, and run at defenders, it’s just a matter of time before that clicks and converts into goals once more.
And THIS means, it feels premature to get too worried about Gabriel Jesus. Molehill.