Arsenal's Gabriel Jesus dilemma: Mikel Arteta facing season-defining call as injuries start to bite

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Gabriel Jesus Arsenal 2022-23 HIC 16:9
The Gunners striker is back in full training after knee surgery as he closes in on his long-awaited return and he is sorely needed...

Gabriel Jesus’ return is imminent and for Arsenal it can’t come soon enough. 

Mikel Arteta is down to the bare bones up front, with Eddie Nketiah sidelined with an ankle problem and Leandro Trossard struggling with a groin issue.

Nketiah could be out until after the international break and while Trossard could play some part at Fulham on Sunday, Arteta's options are far from plentiful.

Arteta was forced to play Gabriel Martinelli as his central striker against Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League on Thursday night, moving him away from the left wing position where he has excelled so far this season.

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Martinelli does have the ability to thrive in the centre, but it’s clear that he is better suited to playing out wide and his deployment through the middle does limit Arsenal’s attacking threat from the flanks.

“We lost a little bit of threat with the front players that we are missing in our frontline,” Arteta admitted after the draw in Portugal.

  1. Maintaining the gap
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    Maintaining the gap

    Arsenal have done superbly without Jesus.

    His last appearance came in the 2-0 win at Wolves immediately before the World Cup. That victory at Molineux saw the Gunners go into the mid-season break with a five-point lead over Manchester City.

    Now, 12 league games later, they still have a five-point advantage over Pep Guardiola’s side.

    Even the most optimistic Arsenal fan would not have predicted that when the news broke that Jesus would have to undergo surgery following the knee injury he picked up while playing in Qatar.

    So, Arteta’s side deserve huge credit for the way they have coped without their talismanic striker, with the goals being shared around amongst the squad.

    They scored 33 goals in the 14 league games that Jesus was available and 26 in the 12 that he has missed.

  2. 'We will try not to rush him back'

    'We will try not to rush him back'

    Both Bukayo Saka and Martinelli are into double digits for league goals this season, and no other team has two players who have scored 10 or more since the start of the campaign.

    That has been Arsenal’s biggest strength. They have shared the burden between them. But now more than ever, they need Jesus back.

    Injuries are hitting hard at a crucial point of the season and it’s leaving Arteta facing up to a big dilemma ahead of Sunday’s trip to Fulham.

    After carefully managing Jesus’ recovery, the Arsenal boss is now weighing up bringing him back in, with the striker in contention to feature in west London.

    He resisted the urge on Thursday night, despite the striker having just returned to full training. But this weekend could be different at Craven Cottage.

    “We will try not to rush him back,” Arteta said. “We will try to make a fair assessment between what he needs and when he’s comfortable, as well as give the team a boost that they will need in the next few weeks. 

    “Everything is going well, he needs time to get himself in that confident and physical state to compete with a free mind, and when he is free to do that, we will throw him in.”

  3. A season-defining decision

    A season-defining decision

    The temptation to bring Jesus back into the mix will be huge, though, especially with Nketiah and Trossard on the sidelines.

    But the big fear is that if he comes back too quickly and suffers a setback, his season could be done.

    Arsenal still have 12 games to go as they hunt their first Premier League title since 2004 and potentially a further six European fixtures, should they go on and reach the final in the Europa League.

    That’s still a large chunk of the season that Jesus could still feature in, so any sort of an injury setback now would be a hammer blow given there is still so much at stake.

    “He is very, very important for us,” Granit Xhaka told reporters while discussing Jesus’ return after Thursday night’s draw in Lisbon

    "For sure, because we lost Eddie as well, it's much more important to have Gabi back. 

    “Step by step, I hope that Gabi will be 100 percent fit to help this team because we know that he can help us."

    Arsenal have coped impressively without their star forward for the past three months, but the need for his return is now greater than it ever has been.

    So, the decision Arteta now faces over Jesus is a big one. Is it time to roll the dice? Or is the patient approach still the right way to go?

    It's a decision that could define Arsenal’s season.