So much has already been said and written about Gabriel Jesus, the new leader of Arsenal’s attack, but the most telling words came from the man himself. Speaking on the club’s pre-season tour this summer, Jesus was asked about an aggressive spat with Everton’s Yerry Mina, in which he had refused to back down. “I’m no kid any more,” he replied.
There can be no better summary of the Brazilian’s status at his new club. Jesus arrived at Manchester City in 2017 as a teenager with no experience of life in Europe, and without a word of English. Five years later he walked through the doors at Arsenal as a 25-year-old man, a father and an elite footballer of title-winning pedigree.
It was a measure of his self-assuredness that, on his first day, Jesus also arrived alone. Unusually for a new signing, there was no entourage and no team of agents alongside him when he turned up at Arsenal’s training ground. It was just Jesus, ready to fulfil his media duties and then get down to work.
As first impressions go, it was a strong start. And there was so much more to come, with the Brazilian instantly slotting into the team, on and off the pitch. Such has been the remarkable speed of his adaptation that he has already been promoted into Mikel Arteta’s new leadership group, alongside Granit Xhaka and club captain Martin Odegaard.
There is a strong Brazilian contingent within Arsenal’s squad and Jesus has naturally become the senior figure in that circle. The younger players look up to him, and he has been looking after them: at the training ground he has been heard urging 19-year-old winger Marquinhos, for example, to focus on learning English as quickly as possible.
And it was Jesus’ idea, earlier this week, to bring the Brazilian players together for a celebratory photo with the returning Arsenal Women player Rafaelle Souza, who had captained Brazil to the Copa America Femenina title this summer. Little details, yes, but they all contribute to the wider impact that Jesus has made behind the scenes.
— Arsenal Women (@ArsenalWFC) August 15, 2022
On the pitch, too, his influence has been obvious. Against Leicester City on Saturday, Jesus became the first player to score more than once on his home Premier League debut for Arsenal. He also registered two assists, making him the first Arsenal player in a decade to score twice and assist twice in the same league game.
“He lifts the standards with the way that he is training every day and the way that he is talking,” said Arteta this weekend. “It is very natural, but at the same time it is very impressive to do it that quickly.”
For Arsenal’s supporters, the sight of a mobile and dangerous No 9 has been a source of giddy excitement. Arteta spent much of last season with the more ponderous Alexandre Lacazette in his front line, and it already seems as if Jesus has taken the team’s attack onto another level.
It is an indication of the stylistic differences between the two players that Jesus has taken more touches in his first two games combined (104) than Lacazette took in his last four starts combined (93) last season. Jesus has also challenged for more duels and won more of those duels in two games for Arsenal than Lacazette did in his final five starts for the club.
“I am not a robot that stays put,” Jesus told ESPN Brasil after the win against Leicester. “I move around, I want to fight, I want to compete.”
This movement, and the subsequent combinations with team-mates such as Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka, are fundamental to Arteta’s vision for his team. Jesus will start as the main striker but there will be freedom to roam and rotate, especially with Martinelli, who has struck two goals in two goals alongside his countryman.
In Brazil there is still some debate over Jesus’ best position, in part because he struggled as a centre-forward at the 2018 World Cup. For much of the past few years, for club and country, he played as a winger instead. But at Arsenal, encouraged by Arteta and technical director Edu, he has embraced the responsibility that comes with being the undisputed main man of the attack.
“This is a boy that leaves everything in training, so much so that sometimes I had to ask him to relax a little bit,” Cuca, Jesus’ coach at Palmeiras, tells Telegraph Sport. “He is a different kind of centre-forward. He is a dream come true for any coach, tactically speaking. He combines speed and strength, so he can adapt to any role you ask him. A player like him cannot be restricted to one side of the pitch.”
Perhaps the most obvious area for the Brazilian to improve is his finishing. Jesus has always been dangerous in front of goal, but has rarely been deadly. Even against Leicester, despite scoring twice, he left the pitch disappointed not to have scored more: he fired one clear chance straight at the goalkeeper, and then hit the post from inside the six-yard box.
“We used to do some individual work on his finishing,” says Marcelo Oliveira, another of the striker’s former coaches at Palmeiras. “Especially because he would receive the ball with his left foot and always move it to his right before shooting, losing precious time. He has improved a lot since then.”
For Jesus, the shift in position has gone hand-in-hand with a change in his mentality. He has admitted that, “for a long time”, his experience at the 2018 World Cup had caused him to doubt his effectiveness as a central striker. “Now I have a different mindset,” he said last weekend. “I believe in myself a lot more, I am smiling again, I have confidence in my game.”
These remain early days for Jesus in London, and Arsenal’s supporters know better than anyone how quickly a bright new signing can fade. Within the club, though, there is no expectation of any downturn. Arsenal fought off considerable competition to sign Jesus - it is understood that more than one top Premier League club expressed an interest in him - and they believe he can be a truly world-class performer for this team.
For Jesus, these first few months at Arsenal have demonstrated the transformative power of increased responsibility and status. There are different expectations of him now, and that brings a different pressure. The early evidence is not only that he can handle it, in matches and indeed behind the scenes, but that it will make him an even more formidable force as a player.