Edu's make-or-break Gabriel Jesus deal and Arsenal's number nine curse

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Arsenal's Edu-led evolution is set to come to a head in the 2022-23 season, with the technical director stating publicly this week that a top-four finish is the target.

Inconsistency throughout last season, culminating in a poor run of form at the end of the campaign, saw Arsenal's absence from the Champions League extend to five years.

With Mikel Arteta at the helm and Edu leading the recruitment, the Gunners now believe this is their time and, with the Brazilian's comments in pre-season about this being the season for success in the long-term plan, the pressure is on.

Arsenal have brought in the likes of Martin Odegaard and Aaron Ramsdale in recent times, while they have also cemented the futures of young players like Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith Rowe.

One major piece of the puzzle was missing last season, however, with no striker to take the mantle of leading the line until Nketiah's purple patch – but the London club are hoping that will change with the capture of Gabriel Jesus.

Signed following a trophy-laden spell at Manchester City, the fact that Arsenal managed to land Jesus, in a World Cup year no less, is a feather in Edu's cap, but the real question is, can he end Arsenal's number nine curse?

Staggeringly, no number nine has hit 15 goals for the club in a Premier League season since the 1998-99 campaign, when Nicolas Anelka found the back of the net 17 times.

Since then, Davor Sukor, Francis Jeffers, Jose Antonio Reyes, Julio Baptista, Eduardo, Park Chu Young, Lukas Podolski and Lucas Perez have all graced the number nine shirt with varying, but largely disappointing, returns.

Alexandre Lacazette came closest with a 14-goal haul in his first Premier League season but, with just four top-flight goals last year, it was clear the Gunners needed a significant upgrade on the Frenchman.

Gabriel Jesus Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Gabriel Jesus Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Jesus has also fallen short of the 15-goal mark in his Premier League career, with a season-high of 14 in the 2019-20 campaign – though it is worth mentioning his City career has seen him be a member of the supporting cast, rather than the leading man.

He will be first choice through the middle at Arsenal and his numbers are encouraging compared to those who have recently had that role.

In Lacazette, Arsenal had a forward who scored 78 Premier League goals at a rate of 0.5 per 90 minutes, totalling just over 14,000 minutes in the competition– a record that Jesus easily beats.

Jesus has scored 95 Premier League goals at a rate of 0.6 per 90 minutes, playing just over 100 minutes more than the Frenchman – and his return is comparable to what Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang achieved during his stint at the Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal's former captain outscored both with 104 career Premier League goals, a rate of 0.65 per 90 minutes, but he played over 300 minutes more than Jesus did for City.

Again, his role for City was different, playing alongside the likes of Sergio Aguero and, when his fellow South American departed, Pep Guardiola elected to mainly utilise him in a wider area – limiting his opportunities in front of goal.

Through the middle, Jesus' task will be to improve the return in the final third where, during the 2021-22 season, Arsenal netted 39 goals in open play compared to an xG of 48.2.

A number of missed opportunities were high xG chances that, over the course of the season, could have made a significant difference in the battle for Champions League football.

Arsenal's xG 2021-22
Arsenal's xG 2021-22

What Arsenal lacked in a recognised striker, however, they made up for in other areas, with a further 21 goals over the course of the season coming from set-pieces.

Other areas where Arsenal shone included the goals they scored on the counter-attack, netting a joint league-high of six, which Jesus should be able to improve. Arsenal also hit the woodwork on 18 occasions, so they will be looking for the Brazilian to make them more clinical.

Pre-season has also been encouraging for the early part of Jesus' career in the capital, scoring four goals in as many games – including a well-taken chipped finish in the 4-0 Florida Cup drubbing of London rivals Chelsea.

Jesus should get support from Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, who both hit double figures for goals last season, while Martin Odegaard, Gabriel Martinelli, Nketiah and Gabriel Magalhaes all scored at least five.

That ought to also help Jesus' assists return, with the 25-year-old providing 29 during his time at City – including eight last season, enough to be joint-top of the Premier League champions' assist charts alongside Kevin de Bruyne.

According to the numbers, Jesus is more than capable of being the man Arsenal have needed ever since Aubameyang's fall from grace – but he cannot do it alone and the Gunners need to be firing on all cylinders.

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