Can Arsenal win the Premier League title with Gabriel Jesus?

Seemingly liberated by his move to north London and his newfound status as the club’s leading man, Gabriel Jesus’ Arsenal career started in dazzling fashion. 

The Brazilian was performing at a level that arguably exceeded his pomp at Manchester City. He genuinely looked like one of the very best strikers in world football.

Jesus, who notched eight goal contributions in his first nine Premier League starts, helped ascend Mikel Arteta’s attack to new heights. He raised the level of Arsenal’s blossoming young wingers, helping Gabriel Martinelli come of age, in particular, with his success in leading the Gunners’ line transcending mere final third production. He excelled when linking play, he dominated duels and rotated fluently with those around him.

His persistent brilliance meant very few batted an eyelid when the goals dried up before the World Cup break. Jesus failed to score in six consecutive league outings before he suffered a knee injury in Qatar which kept him out of action for over three months.

Despite his lengthy absence, Jesus will end the 2022/23 Premier League season with at least 16 goal contributions (ten goals and six assists in 26 games). His record is respectable, and the dynamic and energetic Brazilian has proven to be a breath of fresh air after supporters endured the decline of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette sticking his backside into defenders.

The vast majority would label Jesus a good, if not great, signing. But is the Brazilian enough? After teasing a title victory in 2022/23, can Jesus get Arsenal over the line in the years to come?

Can Arsenal win the Premier League title with Gabriel Jesus?

Gabriel Jesus lifted four Premier League titles at Manchester City. (Photo by Chloe Knott – Danehouse/Getty Images)

Defence wins championships, according to American folklore, but a prolific number nine is bloody important, too. Now, let me establish that Jesus was not the reason Arsenal failed to win the Premier League this season, but I fear he may be the reason why they don’t win future titles.

Why? His profligacy.

Jesus’ issues in front of goal is not a new phenomenon. It was held against him at City, and it’s why he doesn’t lead the line for the Seleção. Since arriving in England, Jesus had underperformed his non-penalty expected goals (npxG) in four of six Premier League seasons. His two overperformances in 2017/18 and 2020/21 were minimal too – +0.8 and +0.3 respectively.

2022/23 has been his second-worst for underperformance (-3.9) and this deficit currently ranks as the fourth-worst in the Premier League. Only Kai Havertz (-4.4), Dominic Calvert-Lewin (-4.0), and Joe Willock (-4.0) have been less clinical than Jesus this season.

The Brazilian is hardly in esteemed company, and what Arsenal need is a number nine at the other end of the spectrum. Harry Kane (+7.2) and Erling Haaland (+5.9), the division’s two leading marksmen, lead the way in terms of non-penalty goals minus npxG, with Gabriel Martinelli (+5.7) and Martin Odegaard (+5.1) also making the top five.

These two have made up for Jesus’ wastefulness and some, with Arsenal’s diversification of goalscorers drawing comparisons to City pre-Haaland and post-Sergio Aguero. While Arsenal have had four players notch at least ten Premier League goals this season (Jesus, Martinelli, Odegaard, and Bukayo Saka), City have just two (Haaland and Phil Foden).

While Pep Guardiola stumbled upon his optimal formula back in March which facilitated a run perhaps superior to any City side of yesteryear, it’s Haaland’s goals that have ultimately thrust City to the title. Arsenal can continue to compete with a diverse group of goalscorers, but Haaland’s arrival has suddenly rendered the boasting of a prolific number nine a pre-requisite to knocking the Citizens off their perch at the Premier League’s summit.

Jesus isn’t that guy. He’s never been.

Some might point to the Brazilian’s four Premier League winners’ medals as a way of shunning this argument, but was he ever the leading man? He initially played second fiddle to Aguero – similar to how Julian Alvarez has backed up Haaland this season – before Pep got creative with his centre-forward deployment. The likes of Jesus, Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, and Phil Foden were all used as false nines at some point during City’s title wins of 2020/21 and 2021/22.

While Guardiola highly valued Jesus, he never regarded him as a natural leading man. During the two seasons before he left the club, Jesus notched 57 Premier League appearances but scored just 17 times.

So, if Arsenal are to eventually usurp City, who will perpetually be at the summit while Guardiola remains at the helm, do they need more than Jesus up top? Quite possibly, but signing a goalscorer that has the capacity to score 20-25+ Premier League goals in a season is not going to be easy.

There is no Norwegian machine for Arsenal to snatch and Kylian Mbappe’s not coming to town, folks. Those chased by other top clubs such as Victor Osimhen and Harry Kane are unrealistic for various reasons, but Dusan Vlahovic, whom Arsenal pursued in January 2022, could be on the market after a difficult season at Juventus.

While some might scoff at the idea of Vlahovic displacing Jesus, I have no doubts that the Serb, who excels in the box and has outperformed his npxG in four of his five Serie A seasons (excluding 2018/19), would score a heap of goals while functioning as the focal point of Arteta’s framework.

I’m not suggesting Vlahovic MUST be signed this summer, but the possibility intrigues me. Jesus is an excellent player who has raised the level at Arsenal since his arrival, but does he have the capacity to lead a Premier League title charge in the absence of a perennial goalscorer?

I have my doubts.