WHEN the news of Gabriel Jesus’ injury, while on World Cup duty with Brazil, got back to Arsenal, and that he would be out until March, it would be understandable if Gunners’ boss Mikel Arteta cursed his luck.
Finally, Arsenal had seemingly found a player in Jesus, that could provide the key to unlock the side’s potential, when all of a sudden he was cruelly removed from the equation just as the North London side were enjoying a return to the top of the table.
Without Jesus, Arsenal fans may have been dreading the first match after the World Cup, and may have felt their worst fears confirmed when they conceded a penalty in the first half-hour of the game against derby rivals West Ham.
To be fair to Arsenal, they battled back in the second-half and claimed full points with an eventual 3-1 victory.
Well in this analysis, their opponents on Monday must be considered too. West Ham, so far this season, are far from the competent team that finished sixth and seventh in the past two seasons. David Moyles' boys are currently struggling to stay above the relegation zone. And while Arsenal dominated possession, they struggled to make the most of it and were constantly under threat from the Eastenders, especially in the first half.
Arteta will no doubt be pleased with the side’s response, but they face much tougher tests in their coming games with Newcastle United, Man United and an away North London derby against their hated rivals Spurs, all coming up in the next three games.
With Jesus on the therapy bench for the next three months, Arsenal are relying on 23-year-old Eddie Nketiah, who in recent years has played second-fiddle to Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette after a season-long loan with Leeds back in 2020.
Nketiah, to his credit, stepped up to score the winner against the Hammers on Monday, which is all anyone can ask of a striker but his lack of experience in comparison to Arsenal’s nearest rivals does raise question, in the medium term at least, can Arsenal maintain their hold of top spot?
That comparison, with their most immediate challenger, is of course the mercurial talent that is Erling Haaland, with second-place Man City.
On Wednesday, Haaland scored twice as Manchester City beat Leeds United to move within five points of Arsenal at the top of the Premier League table.
The Norwegian frontman, who had a comfortable, if maybe frustrating, month resting and recuperating during the World Cup, returned to Premier League action determined to pick up at his goal-scoring best where he left off in November.
His brace of goals in City’s own 3-1 win completed a set of staggering Premier League records, that until Haaland’s arrival seemed impossible to surpass.
Haaland has become the fastest player to score 20 goals in the Premier League, doing so in 14 appearances. He bettered the likes of Kevin Phillips (21), Andy Cole (23), Ruud van Nistelrooy, Diego Costa, and Tony Yeboah (26 each). Notably, Haaland also reached 20 goals in the Champions League quicker than any other player doing so in just 14 games.
Haaland is now the sixth overseas player to have scored 20+ goals in their debut Premier League season. He joins the likes of Jurgen Klinsmann (20 in 1994-95), Ruud van Nistelrooy (23 in 2001-02), Fernando Torres (24 in 2007-08), Sergio Aguero 23 in 2011-12), and Diego Costa (20 in 2014-15). And it must be remembered that Haaland still has another half to this season to add to his total.
The Norwegian is now averaging 1.43 goals per game in the Premier League this season. Out of his 20 goals, just three have been penalties. He has taken on 60 shots at goal with 33 of them being on target. He has only hit the post on two occasions. But has also created three assists, as well as eight big chances on goal.
Overall, Haaland has scored 26 goals in 20 appearances under manager Pep Guardiola. This is the quickest that any player has reached 25 goals under Guardiola at a top-flight club. Haaland broke Lionel Messi's record of 28 games which is telling in itself.
Arsenal bought well when they acquired Gabriel Jesus from Man City this summer and it was paying off until his injury. How cruel an irony would it be if Jesus’ replacement at City would scupper Arsenal’s revival?
It looks like only an injury to Haaland himself can put a halt to him tearing-up the record books now.