Any assessment of Arsenal’s season may well lie with – and only lie with – their finishing position.
A top four finish, and any earlier mistakes can be overlooked. Anything else, though, and questions are likely to be asked – not least of the failure to sign a striker in January while allowing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to move on.
There can be a temptation to see things going swimmingly and decide this means debatable earlier calls can be overlooked or even justified, but that kind of approach can be limiting. This is why, despite winning their own game against Manchester United, there’s no harm in Arsenal keeping close tabs on summer target Gabriel Jesus.
The Manchester City striker had scored just once in 11 outings before Saturday, but put Watford to the sword with four goals inside an hour at the Etihad Stadium. However, there’s more to the run than meets the eye.
Jesus took advantage of being able to occupy more dangerous positions, having often slotted in on the wing under Pep Guardiola this season. And he’s already almost on a par with Arsenal’s two current strikers combined.
With seven league goals, the former Palmeiras man is one ahead of Alexandre Lacazette (four) and Eddie Nketiah (two) put together, and that’s with the Arsenal duo largely featuring as out-and-out nines. And if his performance against Watford wasn’t enough motivation, Arsenal need only to look at their failed striker chase from January to know there’s value in acting quickly.
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Back in January, Arsenal had a primary target and had their eye on a striker who might have been open to moving to north London. These were, frustratingly and perhaps unwisely, not the same person.
Dusan Vlahovic was courted by the Gunners for much of the window, but when push came to shove he stayed in Italy. ” Juventus are always Juventus…” his agent said after a move to the Turin club was clinched, and it’s hard to think of a timeline where the Serb would have joined Arsenal once Juve entered the picture.
That wouldn’t have necessarily been the case with other targets such as Alexander Isak and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, had concrete interest been shown earlier. And it looks unlikely to be the case with Gabriel Jesus.
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According to The Athletic, talks have been held already between the player’s representatives and Arsenal technical director Edu. The publication also suggests the player himself would be open to a move if City recruit Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund.
The Watford game, meanwhile, speaks to what he can offer. Some will point to the fact that the opposition are struggling at the foot of the table, but it’s the same number of goals Lacazette has posted in more than 25 appearances this term.
The early negotiations, if accurate, would represent a positive step. After January’s struggles in the market, Arsenal know the downside of jostling for position on transfer targets when they don’t necessarily have the same room for manoeuvre they once did.
Champions League qualification could change that, of course, with a seat at the table likely to make a move more appealing to a player now accustomed to top-level European football. It’s not essential, though, as the Gunners showed when convincing Martin Odegaard to join from Real Madrid, and a sense of being wanted can be just as significant depending on the player in question.
It was always going to be harder, if not impossible, to win over a target in January when it was clear someone else was the first choice. However, there’s no reason not to make Jesus feel he’s wanted, and to make him feel that way as early as possible.