Mikel Arteta admits he faces an unenviable task in replacing ‘unique’ Arsenal striker Gabriel Jesus.
The £45million summer signing has scored just five goals since his high-profile move from Manchester City in the summer, but he has had a galvanising impact on a side that has launched an unlikely title challenge.
Arsenal opened up a five-point lead over the reigning champions and Jesus’ former club prior to the break for the World Cup but their hopes of maintaining the pace they set has been rocked by the knee injury the Brazil international sustained in Qatar.
The 25-year-old underwent surgery 10 days ago and he is expected to be out until March ruling him out of key fixtures against City, Tottenham and Manchester United.
Eddie Nketiah is expected to deputise for Jesus and Arteta is confident the Hale End academy graduate, who signed a long-term deal in the summer, can fill the void.
Arteta also hinted at the possibility of redeploying Gabriel Martinelli as a centre forward, while the returning Emile Smith Rowe will also provide an unconventional option.
‘It’s a huge blow for us, obviously,’ said Arteta of the injury Jesus sustained playing for Brazil against Cameroon.
‘He’s such an important player: he’s brought something very different to the team and it’s impossible to replace him. But we have other players, other alternatives and we’ll try to get that sorted. The transfer window is another option.
‘I think [Jesus] is a unique player but Eddie [Nketiah] has incredible qualities as well for the way we want to play.
‘We have other alternatives in that we can play Martinelli up front as well. We are currently a little bit short in terms of upfront positions but getting Emile [Smith Rowe] back is going to be a big one.’
Arsenal return to competitive action on Boxing Day and Arteta knows anything but 100% focus against David Moyes’ West Ham side is likely to result in an immediate setback.
He said: ‘It’s a very special day. Boxing Day is one of the most beautiful days in English football.
‘It’s such a family and historic day to play football, and we are really keen to play again.”
‘I know David [Moyes] very well because I worked with him for seven years. I’m sure that he has worked the team hard and has put big demands on them.
‘They’ve been terrific since he joined the club and I always think it’s a really difficult match-up.’
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