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Arsenal’s new striker went from pure goal poacher to all-round attacker at Man City

After 5½ years at Manchester City, Gabriel Jesus will start a new chapter in his Premier League career after completing his £45m transfer to Arsenal this summer.

Jesus signed for City from Palmeiras for around £30million in the summer of 2016 but only joined his new team in January 2017 when the 19-year-old was finally released to join the Premier League.

He first arrived at Etihad as an energetic, versatile and action-packed striker, having scored 26 goals in 67 senior games for his youth club before joining City. He leaves after scoring 95 goals (and 46 assists) in 236 games in all competitions and his part in four Premier League titles, one FA Cup, three EFL Cups and a run to the Champions League final in 2021 contributed.

The Brazil international was limited to just 20 starts in the league last season, however, and while he still started with eight goals and nine assists, it’s clearly time for Jesus to seek a new challenge elsewhere – particularly with City Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund this summer.

During his early City career, Jesus was mainly used as a specialist goalscorer in a central role. He was undeniably effective and quickly made a habit of scoring with one-touch finishes from close range. In fact, only one of his first 14 Premier League goals has been scored from more than 8 yards and that was a penalty against Leicester in May 2017.

Since then, his game has evolved and Jesus has adapted to become a much more rounded Pep Guardiola-style forward, playing either from the flank or down the middle when needed. As such, he has expanded his repertoire to include many more skillful passes, touches inside the box, assists and even goals from outside the box.

With the 25-year-old en route to the Emirates, here are Jesus’ goal contribution and all-around play stats, as well as a season-by-season look at exactly how Jesus has transformed his game.


2016-17

A 19-year-old Jesus began his life at City where he mainly worked as a classic number 9 through and through, specializing in instinctive movements, close-in maneuvers and one-touch finishes.

His first-ever goal for the club underlines the point, with the striker opening his account by scoring City’s third goal in the 4-0 win over West Ham on 1 February 2017 at the London Stadium – a tap-in from the edge of the 6th yard box to complete an incisive pass ie the textbook Guardiola goal.

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Jesus continued in a similar vein in his first half of the season, finishing 2016/17 with seven goals in his first 11 games for City. While two of those goals were left-footed, four right-footed and one headed, all seven were scored from inside the box.


2017-18

In Jesus’ first full season under Guardiola at City, the forward made 42 appearances in all competitions, including 34 as a centre-forward.

Jesus demonstrated impressive efficiency in front of goal, scoring 17 goals in all competitions with an xG rating of just 17.72. Once again, all 17 of his goals came from inside the penalty area (eight from 6 metres). He also averaged just 4.2 touches in the penalty area per 90 minutes – the lowest season tally of his City career.

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Not only did the Brazilian have his lowest pass rate in a season (80.3%) in 2017/18, but he also completed fewer dribbles per game (0.8) and recorded fewer assists (three) in 2017/18 than any other season in history he spent at Etihad. This shows the heavy emphasis on scoring rather than creating goals.

Jesus’ crowning moment of the 2017/18 season came in the 94th minute of the final league game of the season when he scored well into injury time to secure a narrow 1-0 win over Southampton. City were champions by then, but the Brazilian’s goal saw Guardiola’s side become the first in history to reach 100 points in a top-flight game, leading to them being dubbed the ‘Centurions’.


2018-19

City achieved a domestic treble in 2018/19 by winning the Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup, while Jesus improved again by scoring 21 goals and providing seven assists in 47 games in all competitions. The Brazilian, who was occasionally used as a backup left, mostly spearheaded City’s attack, averaging a goal every 107.3 minutes he spent on the pitch.

Jesus also diversified his scoring opportunities significantly, scoring four goals with his left foot, eleven with his right and six with his head. His hat-trick against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League group stage is also notable for containing the only goal Jesus has ever scored for City from outside the 18-yard box, alongside two penalties. When you look at his delicious 20-yard lob, scored in the 92nd minute, you wonder why he didn’t hit more.


2019-20

The season that followed that treble proved to be the most successful season of Jesus’ City’s career, thanks at least in part to a series of injury problems that kept first-choice striker Sergio Aguero out of action on a regular basis. Jesus capitalized, scoring 23 goals in 53 games for City – his best return for the club – while also providing 11 assists.

While City had to settle for the EFL Cup as their only title after finishing second to Liverpool in a COVID-hit Premier League season, the Brazilian striker has statistically hit multiple career highs.

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In addition to his best goal and assist return, Jesus enjoyed more touches per game inside the box (5.7) and a better passing rate (85.9%) than at any other point during his City stint, as well as seeing his completion average Dribbling rank up to 1.3 per game – which marks the beginning of a subtle shift in his playstyle.

Jesus also became just the second player in Champions League history to score for an English club in both games in a knockout match against Real Madrid, after Ruud van Nistelrooy’s same goal for Manchester United in 2003/04.


2020-21

Minor injuries, a positive COVID-19 test and a suspension combined to reduce the time Jesus spent on the pitch in 2020-21, with his stats suffering accordingly. The forward made just 42 appearances for City in all competitions (down from 53 last season), scoring 14 goals and providing four assists – his lowest goalscoring contribution in any of his five full seasons at Etihad.

Exactly half of Jesus’ 14 goals were from close range inside the 6-metre box – five with his left foot, seven with his right and two with his head. To add to his struggles, the forward’s average for touches inside the box fell nearly 20% from 5.7 per game in 2019-20 to 4.7 per game in 2020-21.

On the bright side, the Brazilian’s 14 total goals were scored with an xG rating of just 14.2, his pass rate remained consistent (84.6%) and he successfully averaged more dribbles (1.6 per 90 minutes). ) than in any other game season at Etihad. In short, he carried and moved the ball more effectively in attack build-up, but at the cost of finding the right spot at the right time to take chances. The fact that midfielders Ilkay Gundogan (17 goals), Phil Foden (16), Raheem Sterling (14) and Riyad Mahrez (14) became the club’s top scorers in 2020/21 suggests a more holistic approach to the distribution of the gates.


2021-22

City shared goals again in 2021/22, with Mahrez topping the club’s scorer chart with 24 goals in all competitions, followed by Kevin De Bruyne (19) and Sterling (17). Jesus made the fewest appearances for City (41) and also had his lowest goal tally (13) in his five full seasons at Etihad, despite taking his assist tally to a joint high of 11.

Of the striker’s 13 goals, just one came with his left foot and another with his head, with all 13 coming from 18 yards out. However, only four were scored from the 6-yard box, marking Jesus’ lowest haul of close-range tap-ins since his first few months at City in 2016-17.

Jesus’ reduced participation will of course have had a negative impact on his productivity in terms of goal contributions, but it’s perhaps worth noting that he saw an increase in average touches within the area (5.8 per game – a career high) and completion of passes had (85.1%) and minutes per assist (233.7 – another career high).

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The future?

Last season, Arsenal sent Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out of the club on a free transfer to Barcelona in February. Aubameyang had been relieved of the club’s captaincy two months earlier and dropped from the squad, while Alexandre Lacazette departed as a free agent in a more dignified departure when his own contract expired at the end of the campaign.

Given that the Gunners’ top scorer in all competitions in 2021-22 was 19-year-old winger Bukayo Saka (12 goals) and that only three members of Mikel Arteta’s squad have successfully scored double figures, the Gunners will no doubt hope that Jesus can once again become the ruthless poacher of yesteryear.

Whether the Brazilian will be able to bring those qualities back to the fore and readjust to life as a penalty boxer who can score more than 20 goals a season remains to be seen. Perhaps a mix of the two wouldn’t be a bad thing either, especially as the Gunners are not overly blessed with a wealth of experienced Premier League goalscorers.

Youngster Eddie Nketiah has been rewarded with a new contract for his late-season form – when he has scored five goals in his last seven games – but the 23-year-old is still a long way from the finished article. And with Fabio Vieira joining Arteta’s attacking midfielders and wingers, finishing in the top four next season and actually having someone around to convert chances with dependable regularity will be key to Arsenal’s hopes. No pressure, Gabriel.

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report

https://www.espn.com/soccer/blog-the-toe-poke/story/4692701/the-evolution-of-gabriel-jesus-arsenals-new-striker-went-from-pure-goal-poacher-to-all-round-attacker-at-man-city Arsenal’s new striker went from pure goal poacher to all-round attacker at Man City

Emma Bowman

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