Sunday, April 23, 2023

The one transfer decision Arsenal and Edu made that could cost them Premier League title

Gabriel Jesus has been a star for Arsenal this season. His impact on the team from a mentality and stylistic point has been nothing short of sensational.

The Gunners, for the most part, have been one of the slickest teams in the country and have played some outstanding football along the way. The position at the top of the league has been nothing short of deserved and Jesus’ impact cannot be understated.

After a booming start the goals dried up personally but for the team they just kept coming. Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard all felt the benefits of his movement and trickery around the box. It’s not until this run of three successive draws that Jesus has been viewed as anything other than a major success.

Even then it’s hardly down to Jesus alone. He is, after all, returning from a lengthy injury and isn’t the man tasked with keeping clean sheets. Had William Saliba been available in recent weeks then the prospect of any issue would likely be completely moot.

However, Jesus is part of a small collective of more experienced players in the Arsenal squad that have been influential on the team. He and the other senior players in a young group were called out by Gary Neville after the 3-3 draw with Southampton. The ex-Manchester United defender wrote: “For Arsenal the more experienced players needed to step up and be composed.

“In the last 3 games the more ex[perienced] ones haven’t. The younger ones have looked more assured. Zinchenko, Jesus, Partey haven’t been right. They have 5 days to sort themselves out. The huddle last night a bluff!”

Jesus’ other issue this season has been his profligacy in front of goal. His 4.1 underperformance of xG is the most by any player this season. It perhaps explains why he was moved out wide by Pep Guardiola and Manchester City.

This is harsh though, as here is a player that has done so much to help foster productivity and brilliance in the Gunners’ attack. He has never been a finisher though. This is the fourth season out of six since moving to England that he has underperformed by 4xG or more. Until now that has been of little issue.

Arsenal have always found new options and creative ways to break down and cut through teams. Martinelli, Saka, Odegaard and Leandro Trossard have chipped in. It’s similar to the way that Jesus was supported by a strong group of supporting soldiers at City last year too.

It begs the question what Arsenal do up front moving forward. Jesus tends to leave the central space in the attack third whilst rotations can leave it empty for long spells. Eddie Nketiah is a more natural fixed focal point and has had an impressive season of his own but is yet to score whilst Jesus has been fit.

The 23-year-old’s back-up role has been a key role in Arsenal’s sustained charge this term but has underperformed his own xG which stands at 7.4. When it comes to finishers, the best one on the books at the club may well be out on loan.

Folarin Balogun had no clear place in the squad over the summer with Jesus and Nketiah in front. At 21 and contracted until 2025, the Englishman has been searching for a way to prove his worth. With 18 goals in Ligue 1 this term for a middling Stade de Reims side, the point has been made.

He is now likely to have the freedom of Europe when it comes to a next destination if it isn’t to be in north London and that could make Arsenal regret their decision to let him go. Balogun, like Nketiah, is a more orthodox striker and someone who is on top form right now.

It’s a simple one in hindsight, but having an extra forward available in this run-in, especially one with the clinical nature of Balogun, might have proved to be the difference.

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