IIt took Gabriel Jesus 85 seconds to convincingly state what Mikel Arteta wanted the most in this transfer window. Arsenal were losing 2-0 in Friday’s friendly against Nuremberg and, while hardly a cause for concern, their manager had the right to expect a change of gear at half-time.
Moments after the entry, Jesús snatched control from the defender, found a tram line to rush to the box, played one-two with Eddie Nketiah and scored from the inside of the near post from a tight angle.
By the time the proceedings were over, he had deftly scored another goal and if this is a description of some wacky pre-season fare anyone can bear, it was at least assumed that Arsenal’s new £45m striker sterling was not sold incorrectly. .
In May, after Arsenal narrowly beat Newcastle and squandered their Champions League hopes, Arteta spoke of four top rivals who “have a very different player profile than we do”. He meant proven winners: players who knew what it took to turn a bright performance into a winning one, and do it with such consistency that trophies followed.
For his side to develop, he needed to bring Bukayo Saku, Emil Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli and Ben White to this level, signing those who were already there.
It’s not easy when you can only offer Europa League football, but they’ve found it in Jesus and time remains painfully on the Brazilian’s side.
“When we find this player, it may not be age in this position that will be the top priority,” Arteta said of his search for summer reinforcements, making it clear that last year’s under-23 signing policy will be changed if necessary.
But Jesus is hardly a gnarled 30-year-old with few years left: he turned 25 in April, and with four top division medals already, it’s reasonable to think that Arsenal hit the sweet spot with his acquisition.
“He is used to winning and knows that winning is the only way to achieve it; I think he will set a different standard at the club,” Arteta said after his arrival was confirmed on Monday.
The deal would have stood little chance without Arteta’s close working relationship with the Brazilian since their time at Manchester City. He knows exactly what he’s getting, which adds to the feeling of being an unusually good couple. When Jesus, moving with intent as soon as the ball became alive, seized on that careless touch to set his first goal against Nuremberg in motion, it was as if he decided to showcase every one of the facets that made him so attractive.
Under Arteta, Arsenal must start games quickly: when they don’t, the red flags tend to be clear and the outlook visibly wobbly. Jesús works furiously off the ball, able to force chances and territory with terrier pressing but also knows how to use it. He is the player who gives you a foothold.
Will he provide enough goals? He may have long yearned for the No. 9 position: he only scored more than 10 goals twice in the top division season, although 38% of his league appearances for City were as a substitute and he was often used on the flanks.
Arsenal scored 38 fewer goals than City last season and 15 fewer than third-placed Chelsea. “Somehow you need those goals in the team,” Arteta said two months ago. “Don’t ask me how, but you need them.”
As it nears its peak, Jesus must give part of the answer. The intent is also that his running and movement creates more opportunities for Saki, Smith Rowe, Martinelli, Martin Odegaard and Nketiah, who Arteta believes could be a useful backdrop for Jesús late in the game to showcase his own effectiveness.
He believes now is the right time to take on the mantle of a top player who has never fallen for City, but Arsenal still need more and their transfer activity over the next seven weeks will determine how capable they are of staying on course in next time.
There is still a faint hope of getting Rafinha to knock Nicolas Pepe out of the water as a swap option with Saka, although Chelsea and Barcelona remain favorites. Inquiries have been made about Lille’s Kosovo striker Edon Jegrov, but he is just one of several potential alternatives.
Ajax defender Lisandro Martínez may decide that his old manager Erik ten Hag is shading the popularity contest against Arteta, which may reflect that he cannot win them all, while Youri Tielemans will be an outstanding addition to the midfield if Leicester will agree to the deal. Fabio Vieira, the vaunted Portuguese playmaker, has signed for Porto but will be given time to settle.
The gap between Arsenal’s best players and their backups has been too wide for some time: Arteta wants quality to be an alternative to quality, especially when there are five substitutions to make. The arrival of Jesus is the flagship announcement for now.
“From day one, he showed this passion, this anger and this determination every time he did something,” Arteta said.
Those who were interested in the events in Bavaria could understand exactly what he meant.
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