Last season, Manchester City have not ceased to be applauded. Not just for winning the Premier League title for the fourth time in the past five years. But to do it without a centre-forward. Ever since Sergio Aguero was sold to Barcelona in the summer of 2021, people have been queuing up to tell you City are a club without a striker. Cristiano Ronaldo was sued before the player chose Manchester United. Looking back, City may have dodged a bullet there, but go back a year and people were predicting the worst.
Except they had a striker. He’s the same striker whose start at Arsenal was one of the stories of the season. While everyone was patting Guardiola on the back for coping with midfielders and wingers in the lead, they were ignoring a striker who scored five goals in his first four games of the season. They ignored Gabriel Jesus.
Jesus is an attacker. Arsenal fans already know this all too well after watching his superb performances this season. Guardiola knew that too, at least well enough to deploy the Brazilian in a central role 23 times last season. But 16 other flank spawns have muddied those waters. So did the constant claims, dating back to Aguero’s long injury absence, that City were without a striker.
Guardiola was perhaps enamored with his own chemistry. That fielding Phil Foden (19 games), Raheem Sterling (seven games) or Kevin De Bruyne (four games) in the role was proof of his tactical genius. Perhaps the ex-Barcelona manager wanted his forward line to work in a different way, with more passing-minded players going deeper to make the game easier. Whatever the reasoning, it still seems odd. that the wider narrative of City without a striker was allowed to persist as they employed one who has 56 caps for Brazil.
If Guardiola wanted more builder’s play from a striker than Jesus provides, then his summer marquee signing seems odd. Erling Haaland is an even more traditional number nine than Jesus. The Norwegian striker scored six goals in his first four games for City, but he netted them with minimal touches. Haaland is there to complete the moves, not contribute to them. If Guardiola didn’t want a traditional striker, he has a funny way of showing it.
But City’s loss is Arsenal’s gain. The Etihad Stadium is barely awash in tears at the loss of Jesus, but the excitement in north London is palpable. Aging Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette had provided the sum total of Arsenal’s attack for years. The arrival of Jesus and the emergence of Eddie Nketiah feel like a new dawn after their long-time couple departed.
After thrilling performances from Emile Smith Rowe, Martin Odegaard, Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka last season, the only thing missing seemed to be a striker with similar vitality to this well of young talent. Jesus is 25 and has already played a part in four Premier League wins. A striker who combines relative youth with a wealth of experience might just be the missing ingredient Arsenal have been looking for.
For the forgotten man from Etihad to the Emirates talisman. What a difference a summer can make. City are unlikely to mourn defeat given Haaland scores the goals. But Gunners fans certainly won’t complain about their lack of a quality striker in the way City supporters once did when Jesus was in their ranks.
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