Making his first league start in roughly four months for Arsenal, Gabriel Jesus reminded everyone just what a class act he is by bagging a brace and playing an integral role in the Gunners’ 4-1 dismantling of Leeds United.
Granted his first outing from the outset since returning from his frustrating knee injury, he repaid Mikel Arteta’s faith superbly, as he led the line with aplomb.
Flexing his muscles on both sides of the ball, it was a joy to watch the tireless forward pressing with intensity, supporting his colleagues and constantly wreaking havoc with his multifaceted offensive movement in a match where he helped set the tone for his colleagues to follow.
“It was so good playing again, starting again and feeling the atmosphere of the crowd. The supporters come all together, and the way they support me is massive,” he explained afterwards.
“I just want to say thank you to them for supporting me until the end. It’s not easy when you’re seeing your striker not scoring goals but they always support me. The most important thing is always the three points. It doesn’t matter how [we do it], but three points are always the most important thing. Obviously, I want to score, I want to help the team with the goals. I missed a big part of the season and now I just want to play and help the team.”
Unquestionably stamping his mark on the contest, his intelligent movement and ability to seamlessly slot back in was especially impressive.
Tormenting and forever asking questions of his adversaries, the Brazilian proved an elusive proposition for Leeds to contain due to his relentless variations and smoothly executed rotations.
Never allowing his foes to settle into a rhythm of how best to stop him, Jesus’ interchanges, especially with Gabriel Martinelli to occupy left wing areas, but also with Granit Xhaka, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Martin Odegaard on occasion, were so instrumental.
As a result, he was able to find time and space in less populated wide areas, form overloads to help progress attacks, work the channels, create space for others and be isolated against discombobulated backlines, who were often unsure who should be marking him.
The examples below offer some fine examples of how astutely he exploited zones wide and in the strategically beneficial half spaces.
Individually, how wisely he picked his moments when to drop deep and connect play with his back to goal or surge in behind with shrewdly angled and directed runs offered extra upside. Always offering the ball holder a viable option short or long, his focus and relentless work ethic saw him constantly get into quality areas even if he wasn’t always found by a teammate.
Doing a super job of finding room inside the box, he transferred his space invading skills nicely here as well, for he frequently got into promising locations to score.
While his first goal came from a nifty piece of dribbling that won him the penalty that he converted, his second was all about his movement. Here, after checking towards the ball to inherit possession in the 10 spaces and crisply finding Leandro Trossard, he immediately sprinted towards the box before being pinpointed by the Belgian to score in a move that encapsulated so many of his coveted traits.
Indeed, his nous to receive freely and incisively progress the ball, in combination with his running power and instincts, enabled him to reward his tremendous effort with a sensational goal.
Dovetailing wonderfully with his teammates, so awake to vacant spaces and when defenders were out of position, his awareness and capacity to coherently analyse situations shone brightly.
Meanwhile, it was also positive to see him engage in some neat combination play in close, embark on some mazy dribbles, hold the ball up cleanly with his strength, first touch and control, and hit some measured through balls and line breaking passes.
By the numbers, his three shots, three touches inside the box, three interceptions, two goals from an XG of 1,62, two dribbles, two progressive runs and two fouls suffered punctuated his admirable body of work.
Bringing another dimension to Arteta’s attacking plans and proving what a difference maker he is, it was terrific to see him back in the fold and playing at such a high level so soon. The fans definitely relished witnessing him flourishing too, which was underlined by the rousing ovation he received when he left the field.
“I’m delighted for him,” an equally ecstatic Arteta stated. “They were all clapping for him and he’s been working so hard the last four or five months with a lot of support obviously from the team and the staff. Today he deserved the chance to start and he grabbed the opportunity with a lot of conviction and scoring two very important goals.”
Grabbing his first goals since October and operating effectively in all phases, expect him to only get better as he fully gets back up to speed. So vital to the way Arsenal play and a real leader out on the pitch, his exceptional body of work vs. Leeds certainly bodes well for the Gunners, who are hoping to close out the season in triumphant fashion.
A massive boost for Arsenal in their quest to claim their first Premier League title in nearly 20 years, being able to call upon Jesus again might be the injection of class they need to turn their dreams into a reality.