You have to feel for Gabriel Jesus. Along with Raheem Sterling, the Brazilian was deemed surplus to requirements at Manchester City when Pep Guardiola decided to think inside the box and add goal addict Erling Haaland to his title-winning ensemble.
Prized for his experience and acumen as much as his penalty-box prowess, Jesus was quickly snapped up by Arsenal and those hard-to-measure qualities have helped the table-topping Gunners develop the mentality of big trophy hunters.
But then at the World Cup — where he was asked to understudy Spurs striker Richarlison — Jesus picked up a knee injury that will be keep him out of the bulk of the balance of Arsenal’s season.
Shorn of his prized No.9, Gunners boss Mikel Arteta had little option but to look in-house and place his trust in Eddie Nketiah, a player from that least fashionable mould of the out-and-out goalscorer.
If Gabriel’s intangible value is the knowledge and mentality of what it takes to be champions, then Nketiah’s special talent is the innate ability to be exactly where the ball is going to be when it finally drops in the goalmouth.
In modern football that requires a lot of patience and a lot of energy invested in runs which are rarely rewarded and counter-pressing – seemingly the quality valued more than any other in the current game.
At a time when the kind of blunt-edge trauma Haaland inflicts on defences is somehow seen as distasteful, Nketiah’s rare brand of penalty-box poaching is also an under-appreciated quality.
His brace against Manchester United on Sunday was a perfect case in point; the first goal a fuss-free far-post header after casually sneaking behind the last defender, the second an entirely deliberate twist of the torso and waft of the calf to deflect Martin Odegaard’s wayward shot past David De Gea.
Roy Keane likened that instinctive winner to the kind of goal 1990s Arsenal legend Ian Wright would have scored. It also brought to mind Gary Lineker or Robbie Fowler. That we have to reach into the last century for our comparisons shows how much the game has moved away from such singular players.
Nketiah is 23, uncapped by England and throughout his young career has had to endure people worrying about what he can’t do rather than making the most of what he excels at.
He is also Arsenal’s top scorer in their best season for almost 20 years, despite making his first league start on Boxing Day.
At some point in the spring Jesus will return to fitness and no doubt prove a valuable asset in Arsenal’s final push for the title. But in the Brazilian’s absence Arteta may have realised the striker needed to get his side over the finish line was right under his nose all along.
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